27.5.05

*THE FIT HITS THE SHAN*

"I'm not here to try to help or hurt any airline. I'm not here to help or hurt any airport. I'm here to help the consumer"
-- U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas)

"I fought for freedom. I love freedom. This bill is about giving people a choice"
-- U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Plano), 29 year Air Force veteran and former POW

"He's (Johnson) dead wrong. This isn't a freedom issue. It's a local economy issue."
-- U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth)

"Whatever it takes to make sure the Wright repeal does not go forward, I will do."
-- U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Ennis)

Well. It certainly seems as if the esteemed Congressmen from Texas have stirred up the proverbial hornets nest with the filing of H.R. 2646, aka the "Freedom to Fly Act."

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they walked up the hornets nest with a Louisville Slugger and proceed to beat the nest into next week.

And now the fit has hit the shan.

The quotes above go a long way toward separating the good, freedom-loving Repubs from the money grubbing GOPpers only in the game to fill their own pockets.

But the Days of Wright are numbered. Don't believe us? How about the voices of some IMPORTANT people?

"The Wright Amendment is going away at some point, whether it's in five years or 10 years."
-- Laura Miller, Mayor of Dallas

"We're fighting an uphill battle..."
--Kevin Cox, Chief Operating Officer, DFW International Airport


Plenty of items to digest today, from articles that include reax to editorials to a wonderful investigative piece from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. We will begin with that, the story of how DFW conveniently left out a key piece of their independent study on the effects of repealing the Wright Amendment. Hats off to the Fort Worth paper for going against their editorial stance and running this piece anyway.

Law's repeal would bring sharp reduction in airfares

By Trebor Banstetter
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Airfares from North Texas to dozens of cities could drop as much as 50 percent if the Wright Amendment is lifted, according to a recent study commissioned by Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

The airport, a leading proponent of the amendment, released a summary of the study two weeks ago indicating that if flight restrictions were lifted at Dallas Love Field, hundreds of flights would be shifted to Love from D/FW. The summary did not include the findings on fares.

In the full report, the consultants predicted that Southwest Airlines would begin nonstop and connecting service to more than 40 cities from Love Field if the amendment is repealed.

Average fares to most of those destinations would drop substantially as other carriers matched Southwest's fares, the study said.

The study also concluded that ticket prices could drop at D/FW if more low-fare airlines begin service at that airport, even if the Wright Amendment remains in place. But the study said the fare impact would be somewhat smaller.

Discount airlines now account for only a small fraction of D/FW's service.

"If Southwest Airlines is allowed to expand, will fares come down? Absolutely," said Christina Cassotis, the study's author and vice president of Simat, Helliesen & Eichner in Cambridge, Mass.

"But we also feel that the D/FW market is ripe for low fares, and that's not dependent on the repeal of the Wright Amendment," she said in an interview.

The amendment's effect on ticket prices has been much discussed in recent months. But the study is the first to put a dollar amount on specific destinations.

"You can go all over the United States and see what Southwest brings, which is lower fares," Herb Kelleher, the airline's chairman and co-founder, told reporters Thursday. "And that's exactly what we would see in North Texas."

D/FW Airport paid Cassotis' firm $100,000 for the study, which examined the impact of a repeal on D/FW.

The summary released by airport officials May 10 said that a repeal would shift as much as a third of D/FW's traffic to Love Field, and the region could lose service to some cities, including international destinations. Details on fares were included in statistical tables, which were not distributed to the public.

The Star-Telegram obtained the fare data this week from the airport's legal department after submitting a written request for the documents.

"We weren't trying to hide that issue," said Kevin Cox, the airport's chief operating officer. "We just didn't think anyone was interested in 160 pages of voluminous material."

Cassotis said the impact on fares was never intended to be the report's main focus.

"The fare issue is very important to consumers, and so perhaps we should have included it," she said.

The amendment is the focus of an ongoing battle that has pitted D/FW Airport and Fort Worth-based American Airlines against Southwest. The law, approved by Congress in 1979, permitted flights from Love Field only to adjacent states. It was later amended to include Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi.

In North Texas, Southwest operates from Love Field but not D/FW. Southwest is dominant at Love, while American is dominant at D/FW.

According to the report, if Love Field is opened to unrestricted service, Southwest would probably begin nonstop service to 21 cities, including Chicago, St. Louis and San Jose, Calif. An additional 23 destinations would be available through connections, the report stated.

The study compared Southwest's estimated fare to each city to the average fare at D/FW during the second quarter of 2004, the most recent figures available.

In many cases, the savings are substantial. On all the routes combined, the Southwest fares are 37 percent lower on average than the previous D/FW prices.

The largest savings could be on flights to San Jose. The current disparity suggests that fares would drop to $116 from $219 each way. The study also reports possible savings of $71 each way on flights to Kansas City, Mo., of $67 each way to San Diego, and $69 each way to Oakland, Calif.

The fare differences are less distinct to different destinations. Based on the comparisons, fares to Las Vegas, for example, would drop just $5. Discount carrier AirTran Airways already offers cheap tickets to that city from D/FW.

The report also calculated that the average fare on all airlines, flying at D/FW or Love Field, would drop 31 percent to Southwest's new destinations, as other carriers are forced to compete.
Southwest officials say those low fares are the crux of their argument for repealing the restrictions.


"Anytime you fetter competition, what you have is a penalty to the consumer," Kelleher said.
But airport officials say the debate shouldn't be about fares.


"Of course fares would go down," said Cox, the D/FW official. "But that shouldn't be the question. The question is, at what expense?"

Cox called the fare issue "a red herring" because Southwest can fly to any destination from D/FW, without any potential damage to the airport from lifting the amendment.

"Southwest is doing an excellent job of spinning this to make it look like they're helping the traveling public," he said.

In her interview, Cassotis emphasized her view that new low-fare service is inevitable, even if the Wright Amendment remains in place, as discount airlines continue to grow.

She calculated that fares to 17 markets could drop if new discount airlines come to D/FW. For example, prices to New York -- which is not served by Southwest -- could fall $113 each way, a 50 percent savings.

But D/FW hasn't had much luck recently in luring new airlines. Most discount carriers, including JetBlue and America West, say they have no plans to expand at the airport soon.

The airport is offering an incentive package worth as much as $22 million to any airline that takes the 24 gates vacated this year by Delta Air Lines, which essentially closed its D/FW hub.

So far, there haven't been any takers. Cox said Thursday that the airport is talking to one airline about possibly taking over "a couple of gates."

Still, Cox said, "The fastest way for consumers to get low fares in North Texas is for Southwest Airlines to come to D/FW, and the riskiest way would be to repeal the Wright Amendment."

Kelleher countered: "When it comes to airfares, Southwest has been a bonanza for every city it serves. If we can fly unrestricted from Love, that's what would happen here."

Well, it is certainly hard to argue with Cox's logic. But the reason it is hard is because it makes no sense. Also, it is very interesting, and we are surprised that Kelleher didn't take issue with the quotes attributed to him included in the report that are favorable to Wright. Clearly he has changed his mind at some point in the past 15 years.

We won't blog every article that ran today because it would take up entirely too much space. But we will offer you some of the more interesting, germane, thoughtful and even humourous items from around the nation today.

Like this from a Dallas Morning News article "Airport Rift Is Felt In D.C."

The difficulty of their battle was underscored by Mr. Barton, who vowed to use his influence from two decades in Congress and as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to stop the repeal legislation.

"I have been here 21 years and I know some of the people, I know how the system works," the Ennis Republican told reporters.

"I will put in a word at the appropriate places, with the appropriate person, and I think we will be OK."

Mr. Barton said his committee might hold hearings on the issue, raising the possibility he would claim some jurisdiction over legislation that most lawmakers would expect to fall under the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"I have jurisdiction over interstate commerce," he said.

What an arrogant turd. If you needed any further evidence that Joe Barton has overstayed his time in The District, there it is.

From the same article:

Officials at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Fort Worth-based American Airlines vowed to fight the legislation, saying they were surprised to see it sponsored by two North Texas congressmen.

"I've got to tell you that I'm a little shocked that Southwest got someone from Texas," said Kevin Cox, chief operating officer at D/FW.

Why would Mr. Cox be "shocked"? Surprised even? We freely grant that it is getting harder and harder to find honorable people in Congress, but we also know that Members who are in favor of free markets (read: the American Way) are not exclusive to other states.

Also from that article:

But Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, said she was disappointed the issue was not resolved among the Texas delegation before moving to Congress.

"I will not let it move until we have hearings and both sides can put all their things on the table," said Ms. Johnson, saying she would not take position until more information was available.

Not to be mean spirited, but those among us who know Ms. Johnson are inclined to believe that she hasn't taken a position for the simple reason that she has not yet had a staff member research for her exactly what the Wright Amendment is.

From DMN columnist Steve Blow:

If response is the measure of a good column, a recent one on the Wright amendment was a home run.

If agreement is the measure, it was a dribbler back to the mound.

But that's OK. We're all about good give-and-take here.

I raised some concerns about the long-term impact of turning Dallas Love Field into a national airport again. But most folks' attitude seems to be 1) Let 'er rip, and 2) Let the chips fall where they may.

The Star-Telegram had a windy editorial today. The last sentence is all you really need to get the gist of it:

The desirable principle of enhancing competitive air travel in North Texas, and the interests of the region's considerable aviation investments, would be better served if Southwest were to operate at D/FW.

In the very same edition, columnist Bob Ray Sanders offers his view. he has not a clue were he's going with it. But we repeat ourselves.

It's ironic that with a name like Love, this airport has generated more bitterness and angst between Dallas and Fort Worth than anything else in the history of the two cities.

It has become a decades-old war, and now I'm convinced that I'll never live to see the final truce.

Perhaps it is only appropriate that an airfield born in war -- it was designated a World War I military training base in 1917 -- continues to be the center of controversy.

The U.S. Army named the facility for Lt. Moss Lee Love, a Virginia native who at one time served with the 1st Aero Squadron in Texas City. He became the 10th fatality in Army aviation when he was killed in an airplane crash in 1913 while on duty with the Signal Corps Aviation School in San Diego.

What the hell? Oh, wait, he gets back to it:

What I don't want to see happen is another protracted bloody feud between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, in which we spend precious dollars and human resources on lawsuits.

It is time for the mayors of the two cities to get together once again to discuss this issue, vow to remain united on it and persuade members of Congress that this latest bill deserves to die in committee and not be resurrected anytime in the near future.

This region doesn't need another war between its two largest cities, and D/FW doesn't need continued uncertainty brought about by constant threats to the Wright Amendment.

What we could all use is a little more understanding, a little more cooperation and a lot more love.

Okay, so the best Bob Ray can do is "Where's the love, man?" It's not with Mark Monse of Coppell who wrote a letter to the DMN. And keep in mind that Congressman Marchant of Coppell has assured us his consituency is firmly behind DFW and Wright:

It's sadly ironic to note that Fegan apparently believes that airline to be Southwest. I submit that the multitudes of Metroplex travelers who are forced to pay the higher air fares out of D/FW just might think that the "airline trying to dictate public policy and keep new [low-fare] airline competition out of North Texas" flies lots of silver airplanes that have the letters "AA" on their tails.

The fact that D/FW's recent "study" fails to discuss the subject of air fares tends to support that conclusion.

Amen to that! Let the chips fall where they may! Our new slogan. Maybe.

And a final thought. A free market, not low fares are at the center of this issue as far as we're concerned. But we wouldn't mind low fares. And according to DFW's own consultant the fares would be dramatically lower on some routes. Here's a link to the table:

http://www.star-telegram.com/mld/interactivemedia/fairschart.pdf

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