Missouri travelers may get more flight options

Monday, October 24th 2005, 12:44 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Travelers in Missouri could soon have more choices if they plan to fly to Texas.

A provision in the massive transportation spending bill passed by the Senate last week would exempt Missouri from the Wright Amendment, a controversial 1979 law that restricts flights from Southwest Airlines' home base at Love Field in Dallas.

The measure, sponsored by Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, pushes forward broader efforts to repeal an amendment that critics label outdated and anticompetitive.

The Wright Amendment was designed to help growth at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, home to American Airlines, when it was new in the 1970s. It prohibits airlines at older Love Field from flying anywhere except to cities within Texas, its four neighboring states and Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

For Missouri, the practical effect is that travelers can't fly from airports in St. Louis or Kansas City to Dallas on Southwest Airlines.

``Twenty-five years ago the Wright Amendment was passed to prevent Southwest Airlines from offering nationwide service out of Dallas' Love Field,'' Bond said in a written statement. ``I am pleased that I was able to exempt Missouri from this anticompetitive, anti-consumer policy.''

Bond, a Republican, is chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that gave its nod to the transportation spending bill and his measure.

But the measure is not in similar legislation passed by the House, which means it still must go before a conference committee to reconcile differences. Texas lawmakers such as Republican Rep. Kay Granger, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, have long fought against efforts to change the amendment.

``She is committed to maintaining the Wright Amendment as it is,'' Granger spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll said.

Ron Ricks, a senior vice president of Southwest Airlines, said that if the Missouri provision passes, the state will be rewarded with lower fares from his airline and other carriers that will match the reduced prices _ the so-called ``Southwest effect.''

Southwest is the largest carrier at Kansas City International Airport and the second largest at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Earlier this year, Southwest began its biggest push yet for full repeal of the Wright Amendment, and Ricks said Bond's measure could help turn the tide.

``The reason why the Missouri exception is important to this issue is it could become the laboratory of competition that shows the other states what's in it for them and how their own people can benefit,'' Ricks said.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines could lose $300 million a year by some estimates if Southwest is allowed to operate long-haul flights from Love Field. American's parent, AMR Corp., has already lost more than $7 billion since 2001.

Officials at American and at DFW Airport, where American accounts for about 85 percent of the traffic, say Southwest should fly from newer, more expensive DFW if it wants to offer long-distance flights from north Texas.

``We don't believe that any encroachment on the Wright Amendment is appropriate,'' American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said. ``It's sort of like death by a thousand cuts.''

Meanwhile, legislation for full repeal of the amendment has been introduced in both the House and Senate. The Senate Commerce Committee, headed by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will hold hearings on the issue next month.

``Chairman Stevens has committed to holding hearings on this legislation in the Commerce Committee, which is good news,'' Bond said. ``I have put my colleagues on notice. If no action is taken, I will not hesitate to revisit this issue on a larger scale at my next opportunity.''