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Remembering the man who authored the Wright Amendment

Speaker Jim Wright, who wrote the Wright Amendment restricting long-haul flights out of Dallas Love Field, died on Wednesday. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)
Speaker Jim Wright, who wrote the Wright Amendment restricting long-haul flights out of Dallas Love Field, died on Wednesday. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner) Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

For decades, long haul flights out of Dallas Love Field were restricted because of a Congressional amendment authored by Fort Worth congressman Jim Wright.

And on Wednesday, a few months after the Wright Amendment restrictions expired, Wright died. The former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was 92.

Last fall, when I asked Wright about the amendment that bears his name, he chuckled and reminded people that all of Congress voted on it, not just him. The amendment outlining the infamous flight restrictions was attached to the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of 1979.

"The members of Congress knew what was necessary to protect the safety and well-being in this part of Texas, and to save the investment. It was a somewhat appreciable investment and money and time by the FAA for the development of DFW Airport," Wright said last October.

He added it was necessary to limit Love Field to protect DFW, the new regional airport. His original amendment prohibited all interstate flying out of Love Field, but the amendment was modified by the Senate to allow flights using aircraft with fewer than 56 passengers and for flights to neighboring states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Wright said that Southwest Airlines, who fought against the restrictions, was always allowed to operate long-haul flights, as long as they flew out of DFW instead of Love Field.

“Although Jim Wright and I had a political tussle over the adoption of the Wright Amendment, our personal relationship remained untainted by our political dispute,” said Southwest founder Herb Kelleher in a statement on Wednesday. “I profoundly mourn the passing of my friend Jim while saluting his leadership that produced great benefits for both Texas and our Nation.”

After decades of attempts of appeal the amendment, a compromise agreement was reached between Fort Worth, Dallas, American Airlines, DFW Airport and Southwest Airlines that ended the restrictions put in place by the Wright Amendment. The restrictions were rolled back on October 13, 2014.

“Jim Wright’s contributions to the overall success of the Dallas/Fort Worth region are legendary, and the federal legislation bearing his name and preserving the agreement between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth was critical to the success of DFW Airport,” said American Airlines senior vice president of government affairs Will Ris. “Today, DFW is the nation’s fourth largest airport and is directly responsible for creating thousands of jobs and generating more than $31 billion to the North Texas economy. That would not have been possible without Jim Wright’s leadership at a pivotal time in DFW’s history.”

On a personal note, I knew Speaker Wright for several years before I started writing articles about the Wright Amendment and the compromise agreement that ended the restrictions in October 2014. I was fortunate enough to have lunch with the Speaker several times over the past decade because of a mutual friend, and talked to him about issues ranging from the his time in Congress to his retired life in Fort Worth.

He was always a very gracious man and loved to talk about politics even though he was no longer in office. I’ll never forget the time he hung up on me while I was asking him about his voting record on civil rights as a research assistant for a book project by then-Star-Telegram books editor Jeff Guinn. Wright was not pleased when I asked why he didn’t support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and promptly ended the phone conversation. A few weeks later, I was invited to lunch with the speaker where he apologized for his rudeness and then proceeded to explain his position and the politics of it all.

He was a legend in Fort Worth and he will be missed.

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