April 29, 2014

Dallas must take control at Love

Don’t be fooled by showmanship.

Don’t be fooled by showmanship.

Virgin America Chairman Don Carty and CEO David Cush put on a show at Dallas Love Field last week when they announced that Virgin would start selling tickets for flights at two Love gates leased by American Airlines.

Virgin had reached a deal with American to take over the gates, they said, and the Justice Department had approved.

Impressive, but all for show. Carty and Cush have played this game before.

They were American executives more than a decade ago when the Fort Worth airline briefly blustered its way into Love Field, only to walk away later.

The Dallas City Council controls Love Field, not the Justice Department. It’s important that council members exert that control and not be distracted by Virgin’s showmanship or any fear that Justice will intervene.

The Justice Department can and has forced American to give up its two Love Field gates as a condition of approval for its merger with US Airways. But as to what airline would take over the gates, the department should have a say only if the replacement choice is anti-competitive.

American’s lease at Love has a storied past, but it’s been years since the airline operated flights there.

American told Dallas in 1997 it wanted to branch off from its stronghold at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and start service at Love Field as a “pre-emptive move” against other airlines expanding at Love.

For a while, American subleased gate space from Continental Airlines. It continued to press Dallas for gates of its own and finally created space in the out-of-the-way east concourse to build two gates.

Cush was American’s general sales manager when American opened those gates in 2006. He and Carty, American’s former CEO, have moved on to Virgin.

Also in 2006, Dallas and Fort Worth signed a historic agreement to end flight restrictions at Love Field, ending old aviation animosities. It’s crucial to that agreement that Dallas exercise its control over Love Field.

American has said it is “very respectful” of the city’s Love Field rights.

A city consultant says Southwest Airlines would be the best choice. Virgin can argue that it offers the best plan. Delta Air Lines wants the gates, too.

It’s important that the Dallas City Council makes the choice.

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