Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright may be 91 years old but he still recalls the importance of the amendment that bears his name. Wright says the amendment has fulfilled its purpose in giving Dallas/Fort Worth Airport the time it needed to grow into the international hub it has become today.
After eight years of waiting, North Texas travelers can hop nonstop flights out of Dallas Love Field to cities as far away as Los Angeles, Baltimore and Chicago.
I'll be heading on a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Dallas Love Field, courtesy of Virgin America, who will be moving its operations from DFW to Love now that the Wright Amendment restrictions are lifting. Follow me @Sky_Talk to see live tweets from Sir Richard Branson's LUV flight.
I'll also be hanging out in the new terminal at Love Field, chatting to passengers that are either arriving or departing to post-Wright cities.
And Star-Telegram reporter Caty Hirst will be covering the celebration by Southwest Airlines, who launched its campaign "Wright is Wrong" to get the amendment repealed almost a decade ago. Its first post-Wright flight is scheduled to leave for Denver at 6:40 a.m. while it's first post-Wright arrival is coming in from Chicago's Midway airport around 9 a.m. Follow her @catyhirst for updates of the day's festivities.
Also check out Sky Talk throughout the day for videos, audio recordings and interactive features about the Wright Amendment.
A decade ago, Southwest Airlines declared “Wright was Wrong,” but for Fort Worth leaders, the Wright Amendment was right.
The 1979 amendment, which restricted long-haul flights out of Dallas Love Field, was enacted to protect the new Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, built jointly by Fort Worth and Dallas. With Delta Air Lines announcing in 2004 that it was dropping from 200 flights a day to 20, DFW Airport still needed that protection, they argued.
But when members of Congress began to file bills that would add their states to the list of approved destinations out of Love Field, local leaders realized that the time had come to figure out a solution for the future of the Dallas airport and, ultimately, the Wright Amendment.
“When they started understanding that other states were starting to repeal the Wright Amendment and that was going to set a precedent for other congressional leaders to start doing the same thing, it was abundantly clear that it wasn’t going to be long before everybody started jumping ship and the Wright Amendment was going to collapse,” former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said in a recent interview.
With pressure from Congress, local leaders’ attitudes toward the Wright Amendment began to change. A compromise was reached in 2006, limiting Love Field to 20 gates and no international service while allowing for unrestricted domestic flights starting eight years later.
Dallas mayor Laura Miller and Fort Worth mayor Mike Moncrief sign the Wright Amendment Compromise in 2006
Now, on Monday, passengers will be able to fly nonstop to cities on the East and West coasts out of Love Field, as the restrictions put in place 34 years ago are finally lifted.
“We’ve been working to prepare for this for eight years,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said. “We’re ready. Our people are very excited and there is a lot of excitement with our customers.”
When former House Speaker Jim Wright is asked about the amendment that bears his name, he chuckles and reminds people that all of Congress voted on it, not just him. The amendment outlining the infamous flight restrictions was attached to the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of 1979.
“The members of Congress knew what was necessary to protect the safety and well-being in this part of Texas, and to save the investment. It was a somewhat appreciable investment and money and time by the FAA for the development of DFW Airport,” Wright said.
Leaders of Dallas and Fort Worth agreed in the 1960s to close their municipal airports to commercial passenger service in order to receive federal funding for a regional airport that would be built halfway between the two cities. But Southwest Airlines, a small startup airline serving only cities within Texas, won several legal battles that ordered Dallas to keep Love Field open.
As the federal government moved to deregulate the airline industry in 1978, Wright said, it was necessary to limit Love Field to protect DFW, the fledgling regional airport. His original amendment prohibited all interstate flying out of Love Field, but the amendment was modified by the Senate to allow flights using aircraft with fewer than 56 passengers and for flights to neighboring states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
It was passed by Congress and took Feb. 18, 1980.
“They could have flown out of DFW anytime they wanted to,” Wright said about Southwest Airlines. “They were never prohibited from flying to other places so long as they flew out of the regional airport that was being built for that purpose.”
Over the next 25 years, several attempts were made to repeal the Wright Amendment completely or to modify it. In 1997, the Shelby Amendment added Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama to the list of permitted destinations out of Love Field.
And each time a campaign was started by an airline or leaders in Dallas to get rid of the restrictions, Fort Worth community leaders fought hard to keep them in place.
“Fort Worth’s attitude was a deal was a deal,” Moncrief said. “The Tarrant County delegation was vehemently opposed to taking it any further. They felt like this amendment was put in place to protect our largest employer, American Airlines, and to ensure that DFW Airport, our largest fiscal engine in the entire region, was protected.”
To read the full story that appeared in Sunday's Star-Telegram, click here.