|WACO, October 17 - On October 13, 2014, the Wright Amendment expired, removing decades-old limitations on flights out of Dallas Love Field.
This is great news for travelers, as it introduces further competition into the market for long-haul flights. When the Wright Amendment was passed, there may have been some justification for it; however, it was time to remove the restrictions.
The Wright Amendment (named for former House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth) was passed in 1979. At the time, Sony Walkmans were a hot new item (with a $200 price tag), the BeeGees regularly topped the charts, and ESPN was a brand-new network. The population of Texas stood at almost 13.9 million, barely over half of todayís about 27.0 million.
The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth had agreed in the 1960s to end commercial passenger service at their municipal airports to pave the way for the FAA investment in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). The fear was that if the cities kept their own airports, DFW would not be feasible given the multi-billion-dollar outlay required to build it.
A few years later, however, along came Southwest Airlines, with its short flights in and around Texas. The company was able to win legal battles to secure the right to fly in and out of Love Field. However, with federal deregulation of the airline industry in the late 1970s, there were fears that Southwest and Love Field would grow too much and threaten the financial stability of DFW. There were also billions of dollars in bonds stemming from DFW construction, and bondholders could have been left holding the bag if DFW failed to thrive.
The Wright Amendment was added to the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of 1979, which was passed in early 1980. The original Amendment limited flights out of Love Field to Texas destinations, though it was altered to allow smaller (less than 56 passenger) planes to fly to neighboring states. As Southwest grew, there were several attempts to change or repeal the Wright Amendment, and various other states were added to its list of permitted destinations. While Dallas community leaders tended to be more in favor of change, Fort Worth leaders felt differently (partly because American Airlines is a huge Fort Worth employer). Residents of the area around Love Field also weighed in, fearing additional noise and traffic.
Despite these difficulties, it became clear in the ensuing decades that either (1) the Wright Amendmentís provisions would be slowly chipped away by successful efforts to add a few states at a time to permitted destinations or (2) a compromise for ending it would need to be hammered out. In 2006, an agreement was struck among leadership of the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth as well as the largest airline players (American and Southwest) to end the Wright restrictions eight years later. International flights are still not permitted and the number of gates are limited to 20 to ensure that DFW remains financially stable, but airlines can now fly anywhere in the United States from Dallas Love Field.
Looking at DFW today, the idea that it needed protection seems unfounded. Currently, DFW is one of the busiest airports on the planet. According to Airports Council Internationalís 2013 data, it ranks number four in passengers among airports in North America (after Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, OíHare International in Chicago, and Los Angeles International) and nine worldwide. For cargo, DFW ranks 11 in North America and 39 worldwide (Memphis International is the busiest). Clearly, early fears that DFW would flop can now be put to rest.
Southwest Airlines led the charge and the company and others operating out of Dallas Love Field are now free to fly anywhere in the United States. However, phasing out the Wright Amendment is not about helping one particular airline at the expense of others. While the Love Field airlines will benefit, the more important outcome is that competition will contribute to lower prices and more options for travelers in and out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Great news, indeed!
Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com). He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.