28.5.05

A Revealing Article From Torbensen

Stalwart aviation reporter Eric Torbensen reports in The Dallas Morning News that the ball was rolling toward RTFA last fall at a meeting of the N. Dallas Chamber. He also reveals that its been an underground campaign until Thursday:

Southwest crafted a strategy of "educating" lawmakers, newspapers and airport executives, starting first in Texas and moving quickly to Florida, California and other Western states.
Many regional papers knew nothing of the Wright law; several didn't even realize that Southwest, now the nation's largest domestic carrier in terms of passengers, flies from coast to coast, Mr. Stewart (SWA flak) said. "We had one person ask us, 'Why do you care about this if the farthest you fly is to New Orleans?' "


For Southwest, a visit to Tampa, Fla., marked a turning point.

The director of Tampa International Airport accompanied Mr. Ricks and Mr. Stewart to local papers with the airport's own slideshow showing how the Wright law was affecting the west-central Florida economy.

"That's the passion you want to see," Mr. Stewart said.

Southwest tracked anti-Wright newspaper editorials in daily e-mail tallies. But getting congressional backers to sponsor a bill was another story.

For that, Southwest dispatched Mr. Kelleher, an industry icon who says he's been energized working Capitol Hill. "I feel like a wild mustang in spring," he said this week.

Southwest was significantly outspent and out-staffed in the Wright battle, Mr. Kelleher said.
D/FW's Mr. Cox walked into the fight with verbal guns blazing, repeating his contention that Southwest didn't really intend to add long-haul service from Love. He grew intense in Wright discussions, his voice shaking. Once, at a news conference, he bit down hard on his finger while listening to a question he didn't like.


D/FW officials sent letters to other airports asking them to stay out of North Texas affairs. They portrayed Southwest as backing out of a "deal" that Mr. Kelleher promised never to touch.

And mostly, D/FW and Fort Worth-based American framed their keep-Wright argument around a longstanding vision for a regional airport designed to power the North Texas economy.

D/FW commissioned a study that showed the airport could lose up to 35 percent of its passenger traffic and 204 daily flights if Love Field were opened to long-haul flights. The consultants also concluded that lifting Wright would mean lower airfares for the region.


American kept quiet on the issue at first, using its lobbying muscle to solidify support and parry Southwest's efforts.


The world's largest airline has tried to reframe the Wright debate. At an aviation symposium in Phoenix in late April, American Chairman Gerard Arpey said everything should be on the table in the Wright debate, including closing Love Field. "We should be looking at the entire spectrum of options," he told reporters.

And Torbensen reports on an influential SWA ally:

Earlier this month, while visiting New York newspapers, Mr. Kelly (SWA CEO) and Mr. Stewart found themselves in the lobby of Dow Jones & Co., with a few extra minutes on their hands.

On a whim, Mr. Stewart phoned The Wall Street Journal editorial page, even though the pair hadn't scheduled an appointment. It turned into a nearly hour-long conversation over coffee.
On May 19, the influential business publication ran an editorial, calling Wright "an arcane law that serves no purpose other than to restrict low-cost Southwest Airlines from competing against its more traditional rivals."


Over at the North Dallas chamber, the group that had hosted Mr. Kelly in November, a six-month examination of the Wright issue had come to a similar conclusion.

The chamber, which studied airfares and the role of airports in the region's economy, determined Dallas was at a disadvantage to other cities because of higher ticket prices.

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