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Commentary: The 'Wright' Principles

By Merrie Spaeth, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Commentators have been saying that the recent presidential election is an endorsement of so-called "conservative principles." Here in North Texas, Southwest Airlines has asked for a debate about whether the Wright Amendment has outlived its time. Well, if conservative principles mean anything, it's open competition and free markets.

A quick recap: in 1979, to protect the newly birthed DFW Airport, Congress restricted flights from Love Field. The legislation was named for former Congressman Jim Wright. W-R-I-G-H-T.

Since then, DFW itself has grown into the third busiest airport in the nation, sixth in the world. Also since 1979, the airline business has changed just a tad.

No need to review that here. The most recent casualty of all the changes has been Delta, or at least Delta here at DFW.

This fall they announced that they would drastically reduce their DFW presence, and Southwest announced it was time to repeal the Wright Amendment. They're r-i-g-h-t. And I'm speaking as an executive platinum American flyer.

First, reality: DFW is grown up and no longer needs coddling. Second, look at other cities. Like L.A., Chicago, New York - they're all served by two, or more, airports and they're all thriving. Third, and here's where we really get people's attention - economics. Tom Parsons of Best estimates that fares could be cut as much as 70 percent. Round trip between Dallas to Nashville costs about $1200. Round trip between Houston and Nashville is $350.

As virtually every economist and analyst has pointed out, the big winner is the air traveler. And that means more business activity, not just more travel.

For example, take my small business. Travel costs make it uneconomic for many out-of-town companies to hire us.

When I was at the Federal Trade Commission in the early 1980's, businessmen who professed to believe in competition suddenly became very protectionist when regulations protected them and let them keep prices artificially high.

And what about civil debate? The Southwest people simply said "it's time to re-examine the Wright arrangement and we think it's time to repeal it." The DFW officials went ballistic and accused Southwest of being "caustic and divisive," charging that Southwest was trying to keep their monopoly at Love and scare other discount airlines away from DFW.

Southwest has always been a determined but highly honorably competitor. If the other discount airlines can make money flying from Dallas, you can bet they will move to DFW.

The Wright Amendment is the wrong amendment for the future. More flyers. More economic activity. DFW will continue to prosper.

Dallas mayor Laura Miller described the Wright Amendment as a "sacred cow," meaning it's untouchable. But anyone who's been to India knows that sacred cows wander around and ultimately starve to death.


Merrie Spaeth is a communications specialist based in Dallas. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.