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Virgin America Feels The Love: It Beats Southwest To Get Two Open Love Field Gates

Dallas city officials announced Monday afternoon that Virgin America will get the two open gates at Dallas Love Field. Virgin beat out Dallas-based Southwest Airlines for the gates, which American Airlines had to give up due to its merger with U.S. Airways.

Dallas city manager A.C. Gonzalez issued this statement:

After consideration of a number of factors, the City of Dallas has provided its consent to the sub-lease to Virgin America requested by American Airlines. Per the sub-lease agreement submitted, Virgin America will adhere to all terms and conditions set forth in the base lease. Contrary to reports, this was not a competition. While initially, The City was told to expect a collaborative process, the Justice Department eventually required American Airlines to sub-lease the Love Field gates to a chosen airline. The City was presented with the sub-lease. Rather than simply signing the sub-lease presented to us, we took some additional time to make sure our actions would be responsible and capture the vision of the Justice Department’s selected carrier. This was accomplished by incorporating Virgin’s publicly stated intentions into a compliance agreement. The major elements are: ·        Commits Virgin to the standards included in the City’s noise abatement program ·        Clarifies and expands how any unused gate space might be made accessible to other airlines ·        Protects the City from possible legal expense through an indemnification clauseI appreciate the airline carriers who showed interest in the two gates. We are excited about how the lifting of some Wright Amendment restrictions will expand opportunities and choices for Dallas residents and the traveling public. We look forward to working with Virgin America and welcome them to Dallas Love Field.

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, starred in a YouTube video -- a love letter to Dallas Love Field -- hoping to land at Love.

On Twitter, Branson expressed his pleasure:

Original post, Wed., May 7: Dallas city manager A. C. Gonzalez said Wednesday he’ll decide by week’s end which airline will get two available gates at Love Field. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and competitor Virgin America both want the gates American Airlines must give up as a result of its merger with U.S. Airways.

The KERA radio story

Dallas city Council members discussed their options as Love Field’s landlord, but most of the talk was behind closed doors. 

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told council members and Gonzalez he wants to generate maximum revenue from American’s two gates, and is bothered that United also has two gates that it doesn’t fully use.

“They’re not using the landing slots,” Rawlings said. “We’ve got three airlines that want to come here and do this. We got to figure out how to make that happen. So we can take this competition, get people flying all over the nation. I know you’ll make the right decision.”

Southwest already controls 16 of Love Field’s 20 gates. CEO Gary Kelly attended the briefing, and said afterward that if revenue’s the goal, Southwest would add 20 more flights and 11 more destinations at Love Field, but only with those extra gates. 

“We’re also in a good position to provide more competition,” Kelly said to a flock of reporters. “So clearly that kind of desire absolutely plays to Southwest Airlines.”

Still, American Airlines has already worked out a lease agreement with Virgin America, and the Justice Department has approved it – and said it would reject a Southwest bid.

The decision will come from Gonzalez. Virgin America’s CEO, Dave Cush, is feeling positive about his airline’s chances.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Virgin America CEO Dave Cush, after Wednesday's Dallas City Council briefing. Cush is confident his airline will get the gates. The Justice Department has said it would reject an effort by Dallas to lease the gates to Southwest.

“We are highly confident we will get the gates,” Cush said. “You know A.C. has a decision to make and we’ll hopefully hear about it on Friday.”

Cush says he’s been confident since day one about getting the gates. Kelly says he’ll stay tuned for Gonzalez's decision Friday. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.
Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.