Southwest Airlines executives, former executives, employees and admirers who gathered at Love Field on Monday had good reason to celebrate: As the Wright Amendment goes away, Southwest plans non-stop service to 15 more major cities from the central Dallas airport.
Come October, the federal law that tightly restricted Love Field commercial passenger flights since 1979 will disappear, and Southwest is losing no time in responding. Even some veteran airline-watchers were surprised by the scope of the expanded service from Southwest’s home airport.
For a group of Dallas and Fort Worth business and civic leaders and two former mayors, the announcement must have been as sweet as they envisioned it almost eight years ago.
The Wright Amendment protected Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, a joint venture the two cities opened in 1974. It restricted non-stop Love Field service to airports in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
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The law began to crumble in 1998 when Congress allowed flights to Mississippi, Kansas and Alabama. In 2004, Tennessee leaders sought to add their state.
The crumble became a collapse in November, 2004, when Southwest CEO Gary Kelly spoke to a Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast. He called the Wright Amendment outdated and anti-competitive.
Until then, Southwest executives had declared themselves “passionately neutral” about the Wright Amendment.
The law also had powerful defenders, and Love Field expansion had powerful opponents in surrounding neighborhoods, where residents fought additional noise, flight activity and traffic.
In 2006, then-mayors Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth and Laura Miller of Dallas named an 11-member committee of business and civic leaders to help find a compromise.
The resulting agreement, announced at a news conference on June 15, 2006, was elegant.
It balanced freedom and protection, lifting non-stop limits after eight years (that’s now), banning international flights and allowing no more than 20 passenger gates at Love Field.
Worked like a charm.