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Appeals court allows Delta Air Lines to continue flights at Dallas Love Field

Southwest Airlines controls 18 of the 20 gates at Dallas Love Field.
Southwest Airlines controls 18 of the 20 gates at Dallas Love Field. Star-Telegram

Delta Air Lines can continue flying out of Dallas Love Field as a federal lawsuit proceeds, an appeals court panel decided in a split decision upholding a temporary injunction.

The ruling, filed Thursday in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, sided with the Atlanta-based carrier, saying it can operate its five daily flights from Dallas while a district court considers whether Southwest Airlines has to accommodate Delta at one of its 18 gates at Love Field.

“We agree with the district court that Delta and (the city of Dallas) have shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits on the claim that the lease agreement requires Delta to be accommodated,” Judge Eugene Davis wrote in the ruling.

At issue is space at Love Field, which is limited to 20 gates by the Wright Amendment Reform Act signed in 2006. The act limited the number of gates while lifting restrictions on domestic flights out of Dallas.

Delta had been leasing gate space from United Airlines. But at the end of 2014, United sold its leases to Southwest, giving the Dallas-based carrier control of 18 of the airport’s 20 gates. The other two gates are used by Virgin America, which was recently purchased by Alaska Airlines.

Southwest temporarily allowed Delta to use gate space for its daily flights to Atlanta but planned to kick Delta out in the summer of 2015 as Southwest increased its daily schedule to 180 flights a day. With both airlines claiming rights to the space, the city of Dallas filed a lawsuit, asking a federal judge to decide who can use the gates. In January 2016, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade granted a temporary injunction allowing Delta to continue its service. A few months later, Southwest appealed the injunction to the federal appeals court.

“We are obviously disappointed in the decision, and will continue to litigate this issue in U.S. District Court,” said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins.

Of the three judges that heard oral arguments on the injunction in September, Davis and Judge Thomas Reavley agreed to uphold the injunction. Judge Edith Jones, however, did not agree, writing in a dissent that the district court misinterpreted Texas law.

“It cannot be maintained that Delta, even if a ‘new entrant’ under the lease agreement, acceded to ‘rights’ (what rights?), much less to a ‘perpetual’ sublease from Southwest at Love Field,” Jones wrote in her dissent.

Delta said it was pleased with the appeals court’s ruling and plans to continue flying out of Love Field.

“Dallas travelers enjoy the benefits of competition and additional travel choices at Love Field, and Delta is committed to continuing to serve this market,” the carrier said in a statement.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk