Thursday, June 29, 2006

Oops. A few people are mad because they weren't invited to the "Love"-fest.

In my blog posted on June 28, 2006, I hinted that the agreement reached on Love Field and the Wright Amendment was not a done deal. You may recall that, among other things, Senator Hutchison admitted she wasn’t sure she could sell the agreement to Congress.

Well, yesterday the first signs that there are more than a few bumps in the road emerged. JetBlue and Northwest both chimed in, angry that they don’t see any gates for them in the agreement. The Air Carrier Association, which represents several smaller airlines, also turned up, saying it did not view the proposal favorably and might lobby against it.

Robert Land, JetBlue’s senior vice president for governmental affairs, went so far as to refer to it as a “collusive backroom deal.”

These complaints were brushed off by the parties who’ve agreed to the deal. However, if I were them I wouldn’t be so quick to blow the complaints off.

First, when you hear a word like “collusive,” start thinking “anti-trust violations.” Airlines have gotten in trouble before for even having the appearance of colluding with one another, most famously locally in the 1980s. That’s when now defunct-Braniff called American Airlines to suggest a scheme for raising airfares in such a way as to avoid the appearance of “collusion.”

Unfortunately, they got caught and had their hands slapped.

Last week, American came under the microscope for possibly colluding with other carriers to control airfares to-and-from London. The possibility of anti-trust violations may not be as remote as some might think.

Maybe cities couldn’t be accused of colluding under these circumstances, but the same can’t necessarily be said for the airlines. Especially when the agreement hands control of gates at Love Field to three airlines—American, Continental and Southwest.

Also, while I can’t be certain of what political clout JetBlue carries, Minneapolis-based Northwest is one of the nation’s oldest and most entrenched carriers. Trust me, they’ve got more than a few members of Congress who might feel beholden to them.

Let’s not forget Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Dr. Frist tried to add Tennessee to the list of States exempt from Wright last year, but failed. Northwest just happens to have a major hub in Memphis. Dr. Frist is on record as favoring repeal of the Wright Amendment, because he wants Tennessee to have direct access to Southwest via Love Field.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see Dr. Frist killing two birds with one stone by advocating for immediate repeal of Wright and opening Love to all comers. By doing so, he gives Tennesseans direct access to Southwest via Love and appeases a major employer in his State by making sure they have gates at Love if they want them.

He’s not the only member of the Senate or House who probably doesn’t like the current agreement being offered. Others also want immediate access to Southwest.

I think maybe local leaders are missing something here. For other States, the crown jewel in all this mess really isn’t Love Field, it’s getting direct access to Southwest via Dallas, and, presumably, lower ticket prices. That means that there are plenty of outside forces, forces with serious clout, who might oppose the Love Field accord being offered up as the answer.

Some members of Congress are already asking, “Why should my State wait eight years?” When you get down to it, they’re not asking why should they be denied direct access to Love, but why they are denied direct access to Southwest Airlines at its Dallas home.

If area leaders, particularly Dallas city leaders, really want to control the fate of Love and this mess, they’ve got one option that resolves it all.

Close Love Field.

Force Southwest to move to DFW, which was what started this whole mess 30-some-odd years ago anyway. That gives everyone direct access to Southwest and Dallas. It also forces out the phalanx of noisy corporate jets based at Love.

Southwest won’t be happy, but they’ll get over it and no doubt will thrive at DFW.

This would then free up the 1300 acres Love Field occupies for some major economic development, i.e., turning it into a premier living, working and entertainment district.

Investors are ready to develop it, they just need to know Love will be closed. I’ve put together a plan for this development. I call it “The Texas Riviera.”™ You can find out more about that plan by reading my June 28th blog.

Trust me. The agreement on Love Field is far from a done deal. There are way too many cooks in the kitchen wanting to add their own ingredients to the mix. If I were a betting man, I’d bet whatever Congress eventually decides will be a far different animal from what area officials have offered as a solution.

The best choice, the choice to end all the haranguing and fighting, is to simply close Love Field.

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Randall Turner is the CEO of Harvard Companies LLC. He has a passion for downtown Dallas and its development and his companies are a part of a number of projects in the Uptown and Downtown Dallas area.

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