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My Letter: Free Love!

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DavidV
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Have you seen the “Set Love Free” ads?

Pro: http://setlovefree.com/

Con: http://www.keepdfwstrong.com/

I wrote a letter to my senators about it:

Please support the Right to Fly Act (HR 2646) introduced in the House by

Congressmen Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson and the American Right to Fly

Act (S. 1424) introduced in the Senate by Senator John Ensign.

It’s time to bring 26 years of protectionist policy to an end. Airlines

have a right to fly to and from any airport they choose, free from

restrictions imposed by short-sighted protectionists who are afraid to

compete in a free and open market. If DFW Airport is afraid of losing

airlines, they should lower their costs, not try to legislate other, more

efficient, airports out of business.

Even if the absurd argument that a free Love Field would hurt DFW business

were true, it would only mean that Love Field is better able to serve

customers than their competition. As a frequent flier, I support lower

costs (and thus cheaper tickets) and reject the destructive mercantilist

mentality that views the success of one business is a threat to others.

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
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Airlines have a right to fly to and from any airport they choose, free from restrictions imposed by short-sighted protectionists who are afraid to compete in a free and open market. If DFW Airport is afraid of losing airlines, they should lower their costs, not try to legislate other, more efficient, airports out of business.

I think the situation is more complicated. I admit my understanding is rather hazy, but some additional circumstances are substantially as follows.

The DFW "market" developed in the context of a mixed economy with government intervention and regulations.

A long time ago, airlines and the local governments in the DFW area were considering building a huge international airport for the region. Various concerns regarding the small local airports included the downtown traffic congestion, jet noise, inadequate runways for increasingly bigger jets, fears of dangerous proximity to heavily populated areas, etc.

As part of the package for Dallas and Ft. Worth and the surrounding areas to support building the huge new airport, all the major domestic passenger airlines in existence at the time contractually agreed to permanently move from Love and the other small airports to DFW. On this basis, including with the support of local governments, it was agreed that Love and other small local airports were to be reduced to intrastate passenger traffic only. Further, a federal law was passed to that effect.

Shortly after that time, Southwest, then a new airline, started with intrastate operations at Love. Southwest was not in existence at the time of the DFW contract, and, therefore, not bound by it. Between the contract that the other airlines had signed committing them to DFW and the federal law, it had a virtual monopoly at Love for interstate passenger air travel.

Southwest grew, partly, of course, because it was well run and offered low prices, but partly because air travel to and from Dallas via Love was more convenient for interstate travel than via DFW, which is farther away from downtown Dallas.

After some years of Southwest operating only intrastate out of Love, Southwest started complaining that that the restriction to intrastate travel was too narrow, and that all it wanted, and all it would ever want, was an amendment to the federal law to allow it to fly regionally, just to adjoining States.

Even so, Southwest's proposal did not sit well with the major airlines, who were permanently committed to DFW and had invested on that basis. On the other hand, the majors probably didn't really want to compete head to head with Southwest, either at Love or at DFW.

So the parties worked toward a compromise that opened Love to regional passenger air travel, but preserved most of the local governments' and major airlines' various commitments to DFW. The compromise, including the 1979 Wright Amendment, was what Southwest had lobbied for and won!

In rough summary of the compromise, Southwest expanded its virtual monopoly to "regional" flights at Love field and supposedly "voluntarily" stays away from competing with the other airlines at the "less cost effective" DFW. In exchange, the major airlines didn't fight for the "right" to fly into Love. So the consumer has low-priced, convenient, short-haul regional flights available from Southwest via Love field, and higher-priced, long-haul, interconnecting flights available from other carriers via DFW. Southwest and the majors have both been relatively happy, having compromised on the mutual protections of their respective types of local travel markets. Of course, these "protections" come at the expense of the Dallas traveller.

Supported in the Love field market by these protectionist arrangements, Southwest has grown to have exclusive contractual rights on virtually all the gates at Love field.

In this context, you wrote to your Senators that: "Airlines [should] have a right to fly to and from any airport they choose ...." In principle, yes. But in practice, because of the monopoly on gates, etc. the "right" for another airline to make any substantial numbers of flights to and from Love is illusory. Repeal of the Wright Amendment would only give Southwest, not all airlines, the "right" to fly longer-haul flights into and out of Love.

What about expanding Love Field, for example, by building longer runways for bigger planes, more gates, etc.? This is totally opposed by local residents based on noise and other concerns (as is well known to Southwest), and very unlikely to be allowed anytime soon. And Southwest certainly wouldn't fight for the "Right to Fly" above these limitations becuase it doesn't want the majors to be able to use Love, competing on the basis of bigger planes, better connections, international flights, etc.

In this context, you also wrote that: "If DFW Airport is afraid of losing airlines, they should lower their costs, not try to legislate other, more efficient, airports out of business." I don't think this is particularly relevant here -- it's never been a free market based on which airport is more efficient.

Because of Southwest's overt participation in lobbying for such protections and it's continued reliance on other government protections for its Love field market, I am not so sympathetic to Southwest's call for the "Right to Fly" and "Free Love."

Edited by Old Toad
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I am very much on the side of Southwest Airlines on this.

A long time ago, airlines and the local governments in the DFW area were considering building a huge international airport for the region. Various concerns regarding the small local airports included the downtown traffic congestion, jet noise, inadequate runways for increasingly bigger jets, fears of dangerous proximity to heavily populated areas, etc.
My understanding is that Dallas and Fort Worth had been feuding with each other for years over the possibility of a new airport that would serve both cities. Indeed, there already was a perfectly good airport located just to the south of present day D/FW at the southeast corner of 183 and 360 called Greater Southwest International Airport (also called Amon Carter Field). The reason that the airport was considered unacceptable was because it was owned by Fort Worth. When D/FW opened, the airport was closed and demolished (though for many years afterwards 183 went through a long tunnel underneath the runway. It was eventually demolished to build the current 183/360 interchange) My understanding is that the Federal government basically ordered the two cities to build a brand new joint airport.

As part of the package for Dallas and Ft. Worth and the surrounding areas to support building the huge new airport, all the major domestic passenger airlines in existence at the time contractually agreed to permanently move from Love and the other small airports to DFW.

But I wonder how much moral validity such contracts have. Back in those days - the late 1960s was when all the discussions were taking place - the airlines were significantly more regulated than they are today. In other words, they all basically had guns to their heads. How much those guns were used in this particular case, I don't have enough specific knowledge to say. But I suspect that, from a purely moral standpoint if nothing else, such contracts probably can be viewed in a different light than other long term contracts such airlines might have entered to, for example, a multi-decade lease on their headquarter office building.

So the parties worked toward a compromise that opened Love to regional passenger air travel, but preserved most of the local governments' and major airlines' various commitments to DFW. The compromise, including the 1979 Wright Amendment, was what Southwest had lobbied for and won!

In rough summary of the compromise, Southwest expanded its virtual monopoly to "regional" flights at Love field and supposedly "voluntarily" stays away from competing with the other airlines at the "less cost effective" DFW. In exchange, the major airlines didn't fight for the "right" to fly into Love.....

Supported in the Love field market by these protectionist arrangements, Southwest has grown to have exclusive contractual rights on virtually all the gates at Love field.

But my question is this: what choice did Southwest have but to lobby for flawed and corrupt legislation such as the Wright Amendment (anything that Jim Wright touched was pretty much flawed and corrupt)? The government had no business preventing it from flying to wherever it wanted from the very beginning. By lobbying for the Wright Amendment, Southwest was essentially lobbying to loosen the regulations it was operating under. What other choice did they have?

If one looks at the two airlines that have high stakes in the matter, American and Southwest, Southwest is not the airline that has had its hand out for Federal subsidies since 9/11. Of the two. it has been the most entrepreneurial and innovative. Obviously the latter point is utterly irrelevant to how the airport issue should be resolved. My point in making it was simply to illustrate that Southwest certainly does not behave like a "mixed economy" type company when opportunities exist for it to compete in a free market arena.

To me, the essential issue is this: Love Field is owned by the City of Dallas. The Dallas City Council and nobody else should decide whether or its airport will be used and for what type of traffic. The notion that one airport should be restricted in order to "protect" another airport or another city from competition is bizarre - and that is the basis that the pro-D/FW Airport camp is arguing from. Fort Worth would certainly be free to allow airlines to fly to wherever they wish from Meacham if any chose to do so (which they probably won't and explains why Fort Worth behaves the way it does).

Fort Worth for YEARS has been whining about how "unfair" it is that Love Field continues to be successful and how "unfair" it would be if the Wright Amendment were ever loosened or repealed (and this is one of the few aspects of my city of residence that I am quite embarrassed by). They argue that Dallas agreed to marginalize Love Field and that it now wants to "go back on its word." I submit that Dallas should not have been forced into such a deal in the first place.

Again, this is not especially relevant - but it is interesting to note the contrast of the two sides in this issue. On one side, is Southwest Airlines which is a successful and innovative company that has continued to make a profit in a post 911 world and is expanding into market after market - while on the other hand, there is American Airlines which looks more and more like a dinosaur with each passing year and the Fort Worth City Council who always gets real whiney whenever this issue comes up. Together, they strike me as being a couple of whiney losers who are afraid to compete and think the world owes them success.

Edited by Dismuke
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Just a few more brief points on the Love Field/DFW Airport issue.

Southwest has had competition at Love Field from other airlines - most notably Continental which perhaps even still flies out of Love Field. American also flew out of Love Field for a while when Legend Airlines came about and was still in existence.

Also, according to the article I will link to at the end of this posting:

"In 1973, the courts granted Southwest the right to continue to operate intrastate service out of Love Field, thus saving the airport from decommissioning. Fearing that other airlines would operate out of Love Field, DFW International Airport stipulated that no airline could operate at the new airport if it continued to operate any flights out of Love Field. All other airlines complied, but Southwest was happy to remain at the older airport with its location within the city limits of Dallas. Therefore, when the new airport opened in 1974, Southwest Airlines was the only airline remaining at Love Field. "

Thus any agreement by the airlines to not fly out of Love was basically the result of a edict from D/FW officials.

Another brief point. One of the major reasons why American fears Love Field is because American uses D/FW as its primary hub. This means that if a passenger living in a smaller market wants to fly to New York City on American, he will first fly into D/FW via either American or American Eagle and then connect on one of American's non-stop flights to NYC from D/FW. The problem for American is that such hubs are profitable only if there is a sufficient local market for such non-stops. The through traffic from the smaller markets alone is often not enough to justify the flights from D/FW to the ultimate destination. American's big fear is if Southwest and others (including even AA itself, as it says it will do if the Wright Amendment is repealed) begin offering non-stop service to NYC from D/FW it will cut into American's D/FW traffic for the same route big time. This will make American's DFW flights less profitable and perhaps force them to become less competative in the smaller markets that feed into that route - markets where the regional and no frills airlines are hitting them quite hard.

While it is understandable why American has such fears, they are nobody else's problem other than American Airlines. That is a huge reason why American has been so vocal in its support of the Wright Amendment.

Here are links to two interesting articles which provide some background information on the history of both airports as well as the issue under discussion. The article on D/FW also confirms that it was the Federal government that ordered the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth to agree on a location for a new airport. What I did not realize, however, is that the airport had been under discussion as far back as 1940. The original proposed location is what eventually became Amon Carter Field/Greater Southwest International.

See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Field

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas/Fort_W...ational_Airport

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I think the situation is more complicated...

I am not clear why you think that Southwest has a "monopoly" or how it's market is being "protected". The fact that local residents wouldn't allow an expansion of Love field to allow more carriers to fly out of Love could be a problem, but I don't see what that has to do with whether Southwest should be able to fly to non-contiguous states out of Love. That is a seperate issue.

In fact, it may be that the local residents around Love do in fact have a property right to prohibit increases in noise levels given the fact that many of them built their houses around there with the assumption that noise levels from Love wouldn't get any greater than they currently are. But, this is an issue of nuisance law, to be decided by courts. To say that this fact means Southwest has some sort of "monopoly" doesn't make sense to me.

In short, please explain why you think Southwest has a "monopoly", by which I mean, how are they using the force of government to prohibit others from exercising their right to create, gain, or keep property?

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
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Something else I was thinking about today....

All of this would not be even an issue if city governments had never gotten into the airport business in the first place.

Back when railroads were the dominant form of long distance transportation, many cities had multiple train stations - one for each railroad. And the stations were almost always private property. In downtown Fort Worth today there are two old train stations still standing: the 1899 Santa Fe station and the 1931 Texas & Pacific station which is located in a skyscraper and has an absolutely wonderful art-deco lobby. Dallas was a bit different in that it was one of the first cities that hired a city planner. One of the planner's recommendations was to consolidate the multiple railroad depots into one - and the result is the 1916 Union Station.

Airports should have been just as private as the railroad depots were and their location and whether or not they served a single airline or multiple airlines should have been determined strictly by whatever was the most profitable way to go.

That D/FW airport article I linked to states that a bunch of people, including the airlines, recognized a need for a new airport as early as 1940 and that it never came about due to squabbling between the two cities.

At that time, the most powerful person in Fort Worth was Amon Carter, publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, owner of WBAP radio and the person for whom the city's new airport would be named. Carter was notorious for the sometimes nutty lengths he would go to as a civic booster for Fort Worth and for his hatred of Dallas. Whenever Carter had to attend a business function in Dallas, he famously carried a brown bag lunch so that he would not have to dine out and thereby contribute to the Dallas economy. Thus the future of the airlines as well as the convenience of their passengers was NOT determined by what made sense in the context of providing people with convenient access to profitable air transport but by petty rivalries and by power lust, social metaphysics and the never ending quest on the part of civic boosters for "prestige."

If left to their own devices, the airlines wouldn't have cared squat for what the Amon Carters of the world thought nor would they have cared if their actions made it more difficult for a certain city to attract economic development. They would have built airports wherever they figured it was profitable to do so - and in doing so, we all would be much better off and probably have far more options open to us than we do today.

When one considers the sort of Peter Keating types that make up most of the Fort Worth City Council and at the total circus that has been the Dallas City Council for the past several decades, it is pretty sick that such people actually have a significant say-so in the local future of an industry so important as air transport.

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