A late-afternoon letter and accompanying memo from Kay Bailey Hutchison holds out little hope for Jet Blue and Northwest Airlines, both of which have protested the deal to phase out the Wright Amendment that has been agreed upon by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth and American and Southwest airlines. Part of the deal is that the number of gates at Love will be reduced from 32 to 20, ostensibly to ease neighborhood concerns, but the reduced availability of gates also insulates Southwest from heavy competition from another carrier. (The memo notes, “[S]ome airlines have expressed reservations with this agreement, alleging it would prevent them from providing service at Dallas Love Field. Such assertions fail to acknowledge existing accommodation provisions at Love Field and the reality that capacity constraints are not unusual at airports in the United States.” Doesn’t sound very friendly, does it?)
The existing acommodation provisions that Hutchison refers to allow a carrier (call it Jet Blue) that wants to serve an airport that is operating at capacity to share the gates of an airline (call it Southwest) that is already operating there. But in the event of any conflict in schedules, the original carrier’s gets first dibs – and gets to sock the other airline with whole array of charges. “It is important to note,” Hutchison’s memo says, “that many airports around the country have capacity constraints, and Dallas Love Field will not be unique.” (Oh yes it will – Love Field’s will be operating at capacity not because all its authorized gates are full, but because it is reducing the number of gates.) Hutchison’s advice to Jet Blue and Northwest is to go west – to DFW, where a new carrier with three flights a day to John F. Kennedy Airport would be eligible to receive $479,000 in financial incentives.
Hutchison’s memo closes with one last dig at the Jet Blue, Northwest, and any other Love Field aspirants: “It is important to note that new entrant airlines have had the opportunity to service Love Field for many years but have not done so.”
The political problem for the Love Field contingent is that the agreement becomes null and void if the Congress does not take action to enact its provisions into law this year. Time is shorter than it seems. This is an election year, which means that lawmakers will be itching to get out of town and onto the campaign trail. All Jet Blue and Northwest have to do to kill the agreement, at least for this year, is to find a way to stall congressional action. As the saying goes, “There are a thousand ways to kill a bill but only one way to pass it.”
Recommended reading: If you want to know everything there is to know about the Wright Amendment deal – including who won and lost – the Aero-News Network’s treatment is easily the best thing I’ve read on the subject.