28.5.05

Cornyn Inclined To Support Wright

It's not really a big surprise, but unlike his Texas counterpart Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mr. Cornyn has been quiet on the issue until now. From the Dallas Morning News:

Senator open to hearing debate on Love Field, will meet with Kelleher

By TODD J. GILLMAN
The Dallas Morning News

Sen. John Cornyn waded into the Wright amendment fight on Friday, saying he's inclined to keep flight restrictions at Dallas' Love Field but open to hearing arguments on why it's time to revisit the issue.

Mr. Cornyn said he'll meet soon with Southwest Airlines Co. chairman Herb Kelleher, who also has lobbied Dallas Mayor Laura Miller on opening Love to long-haul flights.

American Airlines Inc. chief Gerard Arpey, who vehemently opposes such changes, met with Texas lawmakers in Washington earlier this month.

"My position right now is I don't see a huge hue and cry to repeal the Wright amendment. And I'm certainly not going to lead that charge," Mr. Cornyn told The Dallas Morning News editorial board.

(Well then you are not listenting hard enough, sir. There is a huge hue and cry. Listen to your consituents instead of the power brokers and you might change your view.)

"I may very well decide, due to settled expectations and all the history, that we ought to leave well enough alone."

Southwest dominates at Love. But under the 25-year-old Wright amendment, a compromise designed to ensure growth at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, flights from Love can only reach cities in Texas and neighboring states. Congress added Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama in 1997.

Southwest stayed neutral on Wright for years. Then, in November, it called for lifting the restrictions, triggering a lobbying frenzy.

"I've had a long train of people come through my office," Mr. Cornyn said Friday. "Almost all the people I've talked to so far have said it's important that the Wright amendment remain in place."

(Mayhap, that is because the only people allowed into the rarified air of your office are the people that can afford to pay the admission. And most of those have a financial interest in Wright or they wouldn't pay the steep admission fee.)

He noted that a lot of investment has occurred based on reliance of the deal continuing, including construction at D/FW.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison met with Mr. Arpey and said afterward that she would be reluctant to tamper with the Wright amendment.

But three of eight U.S. House members from North Texas – all from the Dallas side of the region – say they're ready to scrap or tinker with it.

"I would say that if we were starting all over again from scratch, that my instinct was to say what's best for consumers?" Mr. Cornyn said.

"But we're not starting over. We're 30 years down the road. ... Someone has to come to me and give me a good explanation for why it would be good for consumers, good for the people who work in the industry and for the populations served by the airlines."

Mr. Cornyn said Mr. Kelleher had tried to meet with him a few weeks ago, but their schedules didn't mesh. They'll meet "soon," the senator said, adding, "I intend to listen respectfully to what he has to say."

E-mail tgillman@dallasnews.com

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.

GUEST BLOGGER: Herb Kelleher

Let us fly - for the consumers' sake

The old goofiness

The goofiness of the Wright amendment is encapsulated by the passenger who told me Southwest was an "idiot" because it was headquartered in Dallas but didn't offer any air service between Dallas and Phoenix, even though he was willing to connect in El Paso.

Prior to the Wright amendment, Harding Lawrence, the CEO of Braniff, stated on a radio show that Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport was already a tremendous success, and that its principal problem was? Congestion!

What 'deal'?

Southwest located its headquarters in Dallas because Dallas had most of its flights. But, today, Dallas is dropping fast in rank as Love Field traffic and flights decline subsequent to 9-11.

Immediately after Southwest began service at Love Field, the "D/FW parties" began a series of lawsuits to oust Southwest from Love Field.

This litigation was brought under the Dallas and Fort Worth 1968 Concurrent Bond Ordinances. These ordinances did not provide that Love Field would be "closed" (another urban myth). Instead, they provided that, if "legally permissible," air carrier service would be "phased out" at Love Field. The federal courts twice held that this provision of the 1968 Concurrent Bond Ordinances was not "legally permissible." Thus, Dallas did not "welsh" on any commitments to Fort Worth or D/FW Airport: The federal courts declared those commitments legally unenforceable.

Subsequently, in 1978, the airline industry was deregulated. Having lost in the courts, the D/FW parties turned to Jim Wright, then the majority leader of the U.S. House from Fort Worth, to restrict Southwest's Love Field service. Southwest opposed any restrictions on Love Field air service and a multi-month political battle ensued. Jim offered a "compromise" permitting nonstop Love Field air service within Texas and the four states adjoining it. Southwest was told by its congressional supporters that it was either Jim's "compromise" or "nothing"; so Southwest took something over nothing. There was no Wright amendment "deal." There was just the application of political power to curtail Southwest's Love Field air service.

Also, as Al Casey, then CEO of American Airlines, recounts in his memoirs, American moved in 1979 solely to get much cheaper headquarters space in Fort Worth due to a tax-free bond deal.

The modern goofiness

The Wright amendment was supposedly pushed through to protect D/FW Airport (i.e., the carriers serving D/FW). That was 26 years ago; D/FW is now the third-busiest airport in the world and dominated by American, the world's largest carrier (no more Braniff and virtually no more Delta). But Southwest still cannot even provide one-stop, single-plane or normal connecting air service between its headquarters city and points beyond the Wright/Shelby amendment states (yes, the Wright amendment can be amended: Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., amended it to add three more states).

Dallas County reaped $15 million in taxes from Southwest in 2004, since Southwest's entire aircraft fleet is taxed in Dallas, not Fort Worth. Our air services are restricted, but our tax payments aren't.

The Dallas Love Field Master Plan, approved by the FAA, limits Love Field to approximately one-fifth the size of D/FW. All parties to the master plan, including neighborhoods and American Airlines, approved this size for Love Field and the amount of commercial air service it can support.

Fares at D/FW are competitive within the Wright/Shelby amendment states but are woefully noncompetitive beyond those states.

According to a Dallas Morning News poll in 1997, an overwhelming majority of the people in Dallas, Collin, Denton and even Tarrant counties favored repealing the Wright amendment. Only D/FW lobbyists stand against the people's will.

A nonstop perimeter rule was adopted at Reagan National Airport to encourage growth at Dulles International Airport. American Airlines lobbied successfully to have the Reagan National perimeter expanded. Apparently, what's good for the Northern Virginia goose is evil for the metroplex gander. Furthermore, no perimeter rule has ever included the goofy marketing and ticketing restrictions of the Wright amendment.

American lowered its fares at Miami in order to compete with low-fare service at nearby Fort Lauderdale and reported more passengers and revenues by doing so. Why, then, will lower fares at D/FW, produced by modestly enhanced competition from Love Field, harm either the airport or the airline?

Conclusion

Southwest does not intend to harm D/FW Airport or any of its air carriers. If that baseless concern persists, however, then the Wright amendment could be gradually, in steps, phased out over a period of years, starting with its unprecedented and goofy marketing and ticketing restrictions.

Dallas has a reputation as a free-market, free-enterprise city. Does that reputation square with the 26 years of restricting Love Field in order to protect the carriers at D/FW so that they can impose higher fares on the public?

If the goofiness does not stop after 26 years of protectionism, when will it end?
The time is now!

Herb Kelleher is co-founder and executive chairman of the board of Southwest Airlines. His e-mail address is wright.amendment@wnco.com.

reprinted without permission. copyrighted © 2005 Dallas Morning News.

Subterfuge, Chicanery and RC Cola: The Ballad Of The Cynic

Last evening we were discussing Wright and RTFA over a few cold RC Cola's outside the local Stop'n'Rob.

At some point a friend, a veteran broadcaster in these parts (you'd know his name) advanced a theory on the flurry of activity these past several days.

Allow us to begin with a warning. To say that Al (not his real name) is given to occasional cynicism would be like saying that Homer Simpson kinda likes donuts. That McDonald's has been known to sell a hamburger here and there. That Bill Gates has made a little money in software. Okay, you get the idea.

As we recall the conversation went something like this:

"Do you think this is for real," Al asked, "or do you think that all of this is just an end run by a cabal comprised of the rich and powerful?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, in my experience these Congressional dealings are seldom what they appear to be on the surface," he said.

"There is no limit to the suberfuge these guys will employ to accomplish their goal without actually letting the voters in on the game.

"Conspiracy theories are bunk, but this is different because it wouldn't technically be a conspiracy.

"It really just what is known on The Hill as 'hiding the agenda'.

We asked, "Yeah, so what's your point?"

"I think that it is highly likely that Hensarling and Johnson are working WITH Granger, Marchant and Barton. Even Sessions is involved.

"I think the six of them got together over at Barton's well-appointed office in the Rayburn building and formulated a plan. They knew that someone was going to file a resolution and that it would be in their interest for a Texan or Texans to do it rather than someone from a far-flung state with a consituency wanting non-stop Southwest service into Dallas.

"All six drew straws for their roles in this sleight-of-hand and here's how it went. Hensarling and Johnson drew the short straws and they were assigned the task of introducint the Right to Fly Act. The other four drew the long straws and it was their job to come out against it.

"Now, Sessions was just through a bitter and contentious fight with Martin Frost so he has a political need to make nice with Frost loyals. To cozy up with them. He was assigned the job of acting as the peacemaker, the guy who would bring the fighting sides together in compromise.

"More easily said than done," we said, "Frost may have been a liberal Democrat but at least he appeared to have a clue. Sessions comes off as a frat boy who got lucky by winning office in the first place. Had Frost run his campaign a bit differently he might have joined Chet Edwards as another who beat redistricting."

"Maybe so, probably not. The point here is that Sessions has to make nice with the district, and fast. The next primary is less than a year away.

"So this group formulated their plan and the goal of that plan is to keep Wright exactly as it stands."

"Seems sorta complicated already," we said.

"Oh, it is. But no more complicated than most of the other back-room deals made up there.

"Consider that they are all Republicans and the GOP has a firm grasp on Texas politics right now. Are they going to divide the delegation over free markets? No. Would they risk a division over lower fares when their airfare, whatever it may cost, is already paid for by us? Absolutely not."

"Hold on," we said, "I know that some of these people are corrupt as can be. Especially Barton. He's only in it for the money. Granger and Marchant represent areas whose stock rises and falls in tandem with that of DFW so they would be expected to oppose anything that might endanger the big airport.

"But Hensarling is from the other side of the Metroplex. So is Johnson and we are more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he talks about fighing for freedom because he is a highly decorated war hero and former Viet Nam POW," we said.

"We have trouble questioning his motives because he has given more to this nation than we will ever give. We just don't feel right questioning the motives of Sam Johnson."

"I understand and respect that point of view. But that was then, and this is now. Don't ever forget this. He is now a Player, and in the game it pays to have all of us thinking exactly what you said. We must not forget that. But you digress so back to my theory.

"All of these Reps come out with their respective positions and put on a fine show for the press and the public. Six months or a year down the line the proposal is killed by Barton. At that point Hensarling and Johnson can say, 'We're from Texas and we tried. Mr. Sessions has convinced us to work with our fellow Republicans in keeping the economic engine in north Texas a viable entity. Therefore it is not to be,' and at that point everyone is satisfied that the effort was made. Then the issue goes away.

"At least it goes away from the public eye. Meantime the deals are still being made, but deals that will NOT result in the repeal of Wright.

"No, now the real dealmaking begins in earnest toward the one goal they sought the entire time: Moving the entire Southwest operation to DFW."

"But, Al, Southwest has made it abundantly clear they are interested in no such action."

"So they say. We've heard Kelleher's statements over the past few days, but chances are he's in on it too.

"Think about it. What interest would Unca Herb have in getting Joe Barton's panties in a wad? How would that be a postitive move for Unca Herb when he knows he'll be going back to Barton in the future on other issues? It wouldn't and therefore Herb is not going to offend the criminal from Ennis. No, to get things done he has to make nice with Joe.

"And that is exactly what is happening here.

"If the lot of them can point to the unsuccessful attempt to repeal Wright, and then point to the inevitable battles down the road, they might be able to appropriate the necessary funds and use their political capital to move Southwest to DFW, in its entirety, as long as special monetary considerations are given to Southwest.

"Lower gate and landing fees, with a sunset clause on those, of course. Free construction inside gate areas. And a healthy, taxpayer-funded cash payout to Southwest for their trouble.

"Convince me that that wouldn't make Unca Herb happy."

We admitted that we could do no such thing and that parts of his theory made perfect sense.

"It ALL makes perfect sense ya dim bulb," Al said, "because people these days are only too happy to put their blind faith in the government. Its easier for them to just say (in a mocking, simpleton tone), 'Government good. Voting bad. The government knows best and we should listen,'

"The voters, or more specifically that minority of the registered that actually take the time to cast a ballot, have been beaten into submission by these power-hungry bastards on The Hill. They are ready to believe whatever they are told. And meantime these guys can pursue their plan in private and none of us are ever the wiser."

As we drained the last of our soda and took the final bites of our Moon Pie we told Al that it was nothing if not a provocative argument.

As we headed for home, we decide that we're not ready to buy into it, however. Not yet.

If we lose the hope that there are at least some MOC's that are actually acting in the interests of their consitiuents, and in the grander scheme freedom and the American way, we might lose all hope and find ourselves living in a primitive 10' x 12' one-room cabin in Montana sending questionable packages to those in places of power.

And we just cannot do that. Not without some proof to back it up.