18.5.05

A Voice of Reason in FW?

We don't often expect to hear this sort of thing coming out of Fort Worth, yet here it is. We have inserted some of our own offerings in the following op/ed piece from the Star-Telegram:

Airport's supporters exaggerate its impact

By Mitchell Schnurman
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Maybe Dallas/Fort Worth Airport should just declare itself Economic Engine For Life.

The airport has been claiming to be the source of our prosperity for so long, and so many government officials have parroted the line, that most people accept it as fact.
Don't buy the hype.


It's the market -- the people and the companies of North Texas -- that have made D/FW Airport into something special, not the other way around.

Obviously, the airport and American Airlines' reach make it an important, valuable asset. In its infancy, D/FW represented a genuine breakthrough in cooperation for Fort Worth and Dallas, and it's been a factor in relocations and business expansions that have fueled the region's growth.

That doesn't mean it should be the tail that wags the dog.

D/FW's staff and their supporters regularly exaggerate its impact, even calling it the economic engine of North Texas in the airport's annual report. At last week's news conference on the Wright Amendment, D/FW's chief operating officer said the airport is envied around the world and is responsible for more than 260,000 jobs.

That's 10 times the number of workers at the area's largest employer. What can they possibly be taking credit for?

We're used to plenty of self-serving promotion these days, but this isn't innocuous puffery.
By claiming to be our economic driver, D/FW can claim that any challenge to the airport is a challenge to our economy, even to our way of life.


Complete the chain of thought, and you get: "What's bad for D/FW is bad for North Texas."
It's not just the D/FW staff making such claims; the mayors say it, and members of Congress, and chamber officials, and economic development folks. So airport executives say that proves that it's true.


The numbers show otherwise, and we'll get to those later.

I say the tag line is dangerous because it lets the bureaucracy wrap itself in the flag. Oppose D/FW in the Metroplex, and you might as well be slamming America and apple pie.

(hold on just a cotton-pickin' second. have we somehow gotten so far off track that standing up for free markets has become un-American? if so, what a sad statement on the current conservative movement and on American society as a whole.)

The line has been trotted out for small issues and large. And it's the underpinning of the arguments against lifting the Wright Amendment.

Two years ago, I wrote a column against a $1 drop-off fee proposed by the airport, because it nicked consumers and did nothing to address the huge debt coming on. In an op-ed piece, airport spokesman Ken Capps defended the move and wrote, "D/FW takes very seriously its role as the economic engine of North Texas."

Well, in that case, let's not derail the economy.

(ouch...that's gotta sting)

Of much greater consequence is the debate over the Wright Amendment. D/FW paid $100,000 for a study that documents all that it could lose if the law is repealed, from passenger traffic moving to Love Field to fewer connecting flights at D/FW.

(heh heh. for a second there we thought he said they paid 100K for that piece of junk. boy if that had been true...........whats that?.........wha?............. sweet fancy moses you gotta be kiddin'. we are in the wrong business, friends.)

But it doesn't say anything about what the region might gain from lower fares and more direct service.

To me, that's the big question: What we gain versus what we lose.

Maybe that assessment is unnecessary if you accept that D/FW is the economic engine. Under that thinking, if the engine sputters, the whole region stumbles.

That's what Jeff Wentworth, the former Fort Worth city councilman who's now airport board chairman, said at the news conference.

"It is very clear that any repeal of the Wright Amendment severely weakens our No. 1 economic engine to the detriment of all of North Texas," Wentworth said, reading from a script.

He also called D/FW "the region's most treasured, most economically vital asset."

Isn't this public infrastructure we're talking about? It's not Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, Alcon Labs, the convention and tourism business or a university system.

In my mind, D/FW is more like our network of highways and rail lines or the electric grid. When you talk about economic engines, I think of the auto industry in Michigan, Silicon Valley in California or Wall Street in New York.

(spot on, brother. preach it!)

In the Metroplex, consider defense manufacturing, the oil industry, electronics and logistics -- all of which were creating jobs around here well before D/FW opened.

And if D/FW is our engine today, how come our economy did just fine in the past decade, and the airport's numbers look like it's 1995?

D/FW has had a tough go of it, with 9-11, American Airlines' problems and the closing of Delta's hub. It projects 55 million passengers this year, which would be less than it handled a decade ago. Cargo and flight totals are also lower than in 1995.

In an interview Tuesday, D/FW Chief Executive Jeff Fegan said the numbers within the numbers are stronger. There's more local traffic within the total and more heavy-duty shipments in the cargo category, he said, and both add more value to the economy.

Fine, but over the same time, Metroplex jobs grew by 17 percent, the population by more than a quarter, and building permits surged.

I'll buy that D/FW contributes a lot, but the No. 1 economic engine in the region? I told Fegan that I don't see it that way.

"If you want to say the world is flat ..." Fegan said.

(pardon our english, but what a pantload.)

Any other members of the Flat Earth Society out there?

(well, we'd propose a name change but we will join nonetheless)

Mitchell Schnurman's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. schnurman@star-telegram.com

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