Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer
On Oct. 13, Dallas Love Field Airport will see an increase in travelers as a restrictive 35-year-old law comes to a formal close.
Before, travelers flying from Love Field could fly only to limited destinations. But now, with the end of the Wright Amendment, travelers can fly nonstop anywhere in the country.
“The Wright Amendment was designed to protect the investment in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and out of fear that if they didn’t restrict air carriers from flying out of other airports in the Metroplex, that D/FW would fail,” said Steve Joiner, marketing and logistics professor at UNT.
The amendment process
Prior to the amendment, the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated airline routes and set prices for the majors carriers. For supplemental carriers, like Southwest Airlines was at the time, the board did not set such rules. As a result, those carriers could set their own rates.
“In the late ’60s, before D/FW was established, all airlines in the area had to sign an agreement to cease operations and move to the new airport upon its opening,” Joiner said. “When the time came for them to move to D/FW [from Love Field], everybody left except Southwest Airlines.”
Joiner said the airline didn’t leave Love Field because of its status as an interstate, non-major, carrier and it never signed anything because, at the time of the agreement, it didn’t have any airplanes.
“Lawsuits ensued, but it was decided that, indeed, they could fly within the state of Texas,” Joiner said.
In 1978, the airlines deregulated with the Airline Deregulation Act. The board pulled back its control and no longer set rates.
“Any certificated airlines could pick a location they wanted to service as long as they had the wherewithal to do it,” Joiner said.
A view of the arrival and departure drop off lanes at Dallas Love Field Airport.
Southwest Airlines then entered the larger passenger market, which threatened those who invested in D/FW. More lawsuits came from the airline industry.
Soon after, the Air Transportation Act of 1979 passed through the House of Representatives, where U.S. Congressman Jim Wright from Forth Worth got involved.
“He attached legislation that would have basically closed Love Field,” Joiner said. “Southwest found out about it and, with a Texas state lawmaker, went to Washington to lobby against the law.”
A legal compromise ruled that Love Field wouldn’t be closed, Joiner said. But Southwest could only fly nonstop from Love Field within the state of Texas, or to the neighboring states. Flights to other states with more than 56 passengers were also not allowed.
“It was very restrictive,” Joiner said. “Southwest could not even advertise within the city of Dallas or Fort Worth.”
In the late 1990s, neighborhood groups that had previously rallied to close Love Field restarted those efforts due to the noise the planes projected near the airport. So the city of Dallas rewrote the airport’s master plan, restricting its number of gates to 20.
Southwest announced its opposition to the Wright Amendment in 2004. Many lobbied against it. But with new congress people in Washington who did not think the amendment was necessary, the two sides eventually agreed in 2006 to end of the amendment on Oct. 13, 2014.
“It did its job,” Joiner said. “There is no doubt that D/FW is the economic driver of this whole area and it’s not going to be damaged at all by the end of the Wright Amendment.”
An increase in air travel at Love Field
The end of the amendment allows as many nonstop flights from Love Field as the carriers can afford. However, international flights are not permitted from the airport.
After Oct. 13, director of aviation at Love Field Mark Duebner said the airport should see a 50 percent increase in air traffic.
“We are currently operating about 120 daily departures,” said Dan Landson, spokesperson for Southwest Airlines. “We will have a phased approach of adding new nonstop destinations.”
Seven new destinations will be offered on Oct. 13, including Denver, Chicago Midway, LAX, Orlando, Baltimore/Washington, Washington D.C. Reagan National and Las Vegas.
On Nov. 2, eight additional flights to New York LaGuardia, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville, Phoenix, Atlanta, Orange County and San Diego will be available to Southwest passengers.
Revenue at the airport will jump as well.
“We expect to get about $85 million from this, according to our revenue projections,” Duebner said. “But that all remains to be seen.”
While the airport will be busier, it has almost reached its growing capacity. Compared to the 17,207 acre D/FW airport, which has seven runways, Love Field only has three runways.
The airport is completely surrounded by neighborhoods and businesses, so expansion is a problem.
“It can’t grow,” Joiner said. “It absolutely, physically cannot grow anymore.”
But that hasn’t stopped the airport from undergoing major renovations. The Love Field Modernization Program is a project to update the airport for the anticipated influx of more travelers. It includes a remodeled lobby, a new ticketing area, a new baggage claim and a new concourse with 20 extra gates.
“The total budget of the LFMP is $519 million,” said Katrina Keyes, public relations director for the program. “Funding was supplied through bond issuance that Southwest Airlines guaranteed and required no public tax investment.”
The program, which began in 2013, is scheduled for completion in February 2015.
Passengers wait in line for the security check at the Dallas Love Field Airport on Friday.
Duebner said the company added 10 new maintenance positions to keep up with busier runways and custodial duties associated with the traveler increase.
There has been some concern that an increase in commercial traffic would interfere with business passengers.
“If the traffic at Love reaches capacity, if that starts causing delays with business jets flying to and from Love Field, you might see those companies land elsewhere,” Joiner said.
But Duebner said Love Field does not expect to see such interference and the airport is still operating at limited capacity.
Security installments at the airport are subject to grow to meet the demands and specifications of safety protocol.
“TSA’s security standards are the same for all commercial airports, regardless of size,” said Carrie Harmon, regional public affairs manager for the Transportation Security Administration. “We take into account many factors when allocating staffing and other resources, including the number of flights and passengers.”
What is highly anticipated by travelers at Love Field may not be any more than an increase in flights. With limited footage and gate capacity, some say the end of the amendment could be overshadowed by delays.
“The only big thing is you’ll be able to go nonstop to places you weren’t able to before,” Joiner said.
Featured Image: A Southwest Airlines aircraft takes off at Dallas Love Field Airport on Friday. The expiration of the Wright Amendment on October 13 will bring allow Southwest Airlines to fly non stop to 15 new cities. Photos by Devin Dakota – Staff Photographer