Southwest offers to give up Love gates
American faults rival's tactics in bid to speed Wright repeal
12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, June 1, 2006
By SUZANNE MARTA and ROBERT DODGE / The Dallas Morning News
Southwest Airlines Co. would give up gates at Dallas Love Field if it would speed up a Wright repeal, chief executive Gary Kelly said Wednesday.
Mr. Kelly said the carrier has offered three proposals on what to do about the 26-year-old federal restrictions, while rival American Airlines Inc. has worked to preserve the status quo.
Southwest wants to serve its nationwide network from Love, its home airport.
Fort Worth-based American opposes any changes to the Wright law, which limits most commercial flights at Love to a nine-state perimeter.
Southwest pitched immediate through-ticketing, Mr. Kelly said, allowing passengers to fly from Love to any U.S. city on a single ticket if they first stop within a Wright state.
Southwest also has proposed a phased-in repeal of Wright stretching over several years, Mr. Kelly said, speaking at a North Dallas Chamber luncheon.
The mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, who have been in talks to reach a local compromise on the Wright fight, have convened several meetings that Southwest has attended, Mr. Kelly said.
"American was asked to attend but declined," he said.
But Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American, said the world's largest carrier has been in "constant dialogue" with the mayors.
Mr. Kelly's assertions were "simply untrue," Mr. Wagner said.
"Southwest is simply trying to manipulate the process by spreading misinformation publicly."
Some participants in the Wright debate, including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, have suggested cutting the number of gates at Love as a way to reduce the impact of opening the city airport to long-haul routes.
Mr. Kelly declined to discuss details about how many gates Southwest would be willing to part with.
He underscored the carrier's preference to maintain all 21 of its gates at Love.
"Understand that American has rights to 120 gates at D/FW, six times what Southwest has," Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly said the airline has also honored a request by Dallas and Fort Worth to "stand down" for 30 days while they tried to work out a local plan.
"We honored that request, and more," he said. "All the while, American-sponsored, pro-Wright ads raged in Dallas. As of last week, we have resurrected our campaign."
Efforts of cities
Mayor Laura Miller declined to respond to Mr. Kelly's comments. But she acknowledged Tuesday that the Dallas City Council is still on target for a June 14 Wright resolution – and to reveal its report on lifting flight restrictions at Love in the next two weeks.
"We are not going to make any comments about the negotiations except to say that Dallas and Fort Worth are making good progress," Ms. Miller said.
Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief declined to comment on any of the specifics.
"Mayor Miller and I, and our cities, are continuing to try to move this ball down the field," he said. "I feel like we are making progress."
But he said that Fort Worth is not tied to Dallas' June 14 deadline.
The June 14 date "is not a priority for us," Mr. Moncrief said. "We will act when we feel like we have a product."
Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, and Sam Johnson, R-Plano, plan to announce today at a Love Field news conference that up to seven new co-sponsors are poised to sign on to their proposal to repeal Wright. In March, the two congressmen temporarily suspended efforts to recruit new co-sponsors.
But they set a deadline of June 1 to end their cease-fire, and plan to mark the day by announcing that they are redoubling efforts to win House approval.
Before today's announcement, the Wright repeal proposal had 46 co-sponsors.
The confirmed new co-sponsors are: Reps. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.; Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.; Bobby Jindal, R-La.; Hilda Solis, D-Calif.; and Brian Higgins, D-N.Y. Mr. Hensarling's staff was attempting to confirm two more co-sponsors Wednesday.
They also plan to release a letter signed by about 10 members of Congress to the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth that responds to proposals that Love be closed.
"Love Field is a great asset that is not being fully utilized," the congressmen said in the letter, originally sent to the mayors on May 18. "Though some have suggested that closure of Love Field would best address the current tensions, we strongly disagree."
The proposal to close Love Field is similar to American's position that Southwest move its operations to D/FW, and was endorsed in April by the Business Travel Coalition.
It has appeared on aviation Internet blogs and was proposed again Tuesday by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, in an op-ed article in The Dallas Morning News.
In his op-ed article, Mr. Barton revealed that he and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, have formally requested that the General Accountability Office examine alternative uses of Love Field.
Karen Modlin, a spokeswoman for Mr. Barton, said they do not expect the GAO report for two to three months.
The two North Texas Republicans also asked the GAO, the watchdog arm of Congress, to examine the savings that taxpayers might reap if Love Field were used for something other than an airport.
"In addition, this study should provide a determination on whether today's volume of commercial passenger flights at Love Field could be accommodated at D/FW International Airport," Mr. Barton and Ms. Granger said in their letter to the GAO.
Suzanne Marta reported from Dallas and Robert Dodge reported from Washington, D.C. Staff writer Emily Ramshaw also contributed to this report from Dallas.