Ever since 1968, when federal aviation authorities told Dallas and Fort Worth to consolidate their separate passenger airports into a single regional facility, compromises have shaped uneasy peace between periods of bitter fighting over how and where to serve local air travelers.
The latest compromise took full effect Monday, when Southwest Airlines and three other carriers could begin long-haul flights out of Dallas Love Field.
The fights have drawn headlines over the years, but the compromises have been incredibly successful in making North Texas a vibrant and growing domestic and international air travel market.
The latest compromise, though it has its difficult points, could stop the fighting once and for all.
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the regional facility mandated 46 years ago, is often recognized as the “economic engine” of North Texas.
The region’s dominant airlines, American Airlines at DFW and Southwest Airlines at Love Field, have weathered economic storms and industry reorganization and are well-positioned in an always-volatile business.
And now Love Field, energized by a multimillion-dollar modernization program and focused on its role in the local market, can move forward, too.
Monday brought a negotiated end to what was known as the Wright Amendment, key restrictions on Love Field service successfully steered through Congress in 1979 by Fort Worth Rep. Jim Wright, then the House majority leader.
For the previous eight years, infant Southwest had fought to remain at Love Field instead of moving to DFW. The Wright Amendment compromise gave Southwest what it wanted.
Although there were other legal tangles with other airlines, Southwest executives were happy with the Wright Amendment for 25 years. Then they announced in 2004 that they wanted to break free of its restrictions on long-haul flights.
That brought back the bitterness that had marked the the 1970s, along with more legal battles. Fort Worth fought against unfettered growth at Love Field just as hard as it had fought decades earlier to make Love Field go away.
But there was handwriting on the wall. Members of Congress from several states wanted their cities added to the list of areas served by Southwest from Love Field.
June 15, 2006, brought the announcement of the latest compromise, an agreement signed by the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth and the leaders of American, Southwest and DFW.
While all the parties have obligations under the agreement, the heaviest fall on Dallas: limiting Love Field to 20 gates and blocking international flights.
Those measures fall within the city’s authority to limit noise and traffic congestion in neighborhoods surrounding the airport.
Dallas can expect pressure on both of those key fronts. Holding the line will make this a new era for Love.