Virgin America’s announcement this week that it wants to move its operation from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Love Field naturally caused some angst among leaders who have invested so much over the years to ensure the success and continued viability of the larger airport.
Protecting DFW has been achieved to a great degree through the Wright Amendment, which for 35 years has limited operations of Southwest Airlines out of Love Field, and which expires in October.
That expiration, coupled with the Justice Department requiring American Airlines to divest its two gates at Love as a condition for approval of its merger with US Airways, presents the opportunity for another airline like Virgin America to have a presence at the Dallas airport.
It’s not a done deal, as Virgin America will have to bid for those gates at Love.
Delta Air Lines is already leasing American’s gates and has said it would bid for them to expand its service, adding 18 daily flights to Atlanta and four other hub cities.
The Justice Department indicated that it wanted to sell divested gates in Dallas and several other major cities to low-cost carriers to spur competition and produce lower fares. That would indicate that Virgin America or an airline like Jet Blue, which also flies out of DFW, might be prime candidates to win the gates at Love.
While it’s not necessarily good for any service to leave DFW, no one should get too excited by such a limited move. One airline leaving for Dallas will not trigger an exodus from DFW, because Love Field could not accommodate more even if it wanted to.
That’s how the Wright Amendment expiration agreement, reached in 2006, is working just as it was intended. The compromise limits Love Field to 20 gates, of which 16 are owned by Southwest, and it prohibits international flights from the Dallas airport.
DFW Airport, the fourth busiest in the world and the economic engine of North Texas, is spending $2.3 billion on renovations and is aggressively seeking more international flights.
That’s how it will continue to not just compete, but dominate air travel in this market.