More Dallas Love Field passengers since restrictions lifted

Staff Writer

DALLAS (AP) — Since Dallas Love Field was freed last fall from federal flying restrictions, travelers have seen more flight options, more competition and lower fares.

Fears that the change would hurt Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport's business have not come to pass. In fact, more people are flying out of both airports.

The Dallas Morning News reports most people agree the repeal of the Wright Amendment on Oct. 13, 2014, increased competition, spurred more travel and lowered costs for consumers in North Texas and beyond.

Love Field has a shiny new terminal with more food and shopping options, more destinations and more flight options for travelers.

Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier at Love, called the repeal a "home run."

"We're giddy," he said about the boom in business. "You just never know with offering something new how customers will respond or how competitors will respond."

The future of Love is less likely to include sweeping changes because the airport has pretty much reached its limit on how many flights can operate there. Smaller changes are possible, such as the mix of carriers and destinations.

The Wright Amendment was enacted in 1980 to restrict flights out of Love to protect DFW airport . Southwest could sell tickets to only a handful of states until 2006, when a compromise let the airline fly anywhere in the United States as long as the flight made at least one stop inside Texas or eight other states. The amendment's repeal meant Southwest and other carriers operating at Love could fly nonstop from Dallas to any U.S. airport.

"While we expected the growth of Love Field to happen, no one . knew that it would blow up like it did," Mark Duebner, aviation director for the city of Dallas, said late last month. He expects the number of passengers boarding a plane at Love to jump from 4.5 million to over 7 million this year.

The roster of airlines flying those passengers has changed somewhat in the last year:

Southwest, the largest carrier at Love, expanded from 118 departures to 16 cities before Oct. 13, 2014, to 180 flights to 50 cities today.

Virgin America moved its operations from DFW airport with 19 daily flights after it received two gates from American Airlines in an antitrust agreement.

Delta Air Lines flies five daily flights to Atlanta.

United Airlines no longer flies there and subleases two gates to Southwest. United flies out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

SeaPort Airlines, Love's smallest operator, transferred its two daily departures last month to Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

North Texas has seen a major economic impact from the Wright repeal, said Brian Campbell, an aviation consultant in Alexandria, Va. He estimates the change brought 58,000 new visitors who spent over $91 million.

Passenger traffic at Love jumped nearly 88 percent — or 607,249 more people — from September 2014 through August. Southwest accounted for 90 percent of that increase, with its traffic up 79 percent.

Virgin America had 79,456 passengers at Love in August, accounting for 6 percent of the market. The airline did not respond to requests for comment.

DFW airport saw 592,617 more passengers, up 11 percent from September 2014 to August. American controls 84 percent of the market at DFW.

DFW still accounts for the bulk of air travel in North Texas, with more than 5.8 million passengers in August vs. 1.3 million at Love Field.

"The impact is almost nothing," aviation consultant Michael Boyd said about Love. "No matter what happens, Love Field will be a secondary airport."

Indeed, Fort Worth-based American is carrying more local passengers because of higher demand and lower fares, president Scott Kirby said in July.

American carried 337,400 more people at DFW airport for the 12 months through August than a year earlier. However, passenger unit revenue at the airport fell 5 percent in the second quarter, partly due to matching rivals' lower prices in competitive markets, Kirby said.

North Texans have seen new flights to places like Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Francisco. They've also seen lower fares.

The average North Texas fare fell 13 percent — down 35 percent in new cities entered by Southwest — in late 2014 compared with late 2013, consultant Campbell said. Southwest research shows that airfare declined an average of nearly $35 from Love to 16 cities. Overall, its average fare this year was $162 vs. $187 for the industry, said chief financial officer Tammy Romo.

Love has maxed out its gates, and airlines there can fly only from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and cannot fly internationally. That means future growth must come from the mix of airlines, the frequency of flights or flying larger planes.

Southwest, which controls 18 of Love's 20 gates, does not plan to challenge the remaining restrictions at Love, Kelly said. "We struck a deal, and I thought the deal was reasonable," he said about the Wright repeal, which was agreed to by five parties.

Love also has other issues, such as a neighborhood noise ordinance that could constrain growth and insufficient parking for the number of additional travelers. Last month, the city of Dallas opened a new remote parking lot with 1,300 spaces on Harry Hines Boulevard, and a new 5,000-space parking garage is scheduled to open in late 2017.

Industry consultant Boyd projects Love's growth will plateau around 10 million people boarding planes a year by 2019, up from 4.7 million in 2014.

Kelly acknowledges that most of Southwest's growth will not be at Love. However, he said it could expand if it didn't share a gate with Delta.

Southwest and Delta have been fighting over the use of gates at Love since late last year. They're awaiting a federal judge's ruling on the matter.

Southwest has said it's maxed out at 180 flights a day at Love, but it could fly more 175-seat Boeing 737-800 planes there. It flies a mix of 737 models at Love, but most of the planes have 32 to 53 fewer seats than the 800s.

Travelers are more likely to see Southwest expand in other U.S. cities and internationally. For example, the airline will start flying internationally from Houston Hobby Airport on Thursday, starting with seven daily flights to six Latin American cities.

Industry experts expect Southwest to expand in cities like Houston, Florida and New York — places with busy domestic traffic that also act as gateways to foreign destinations.

In the long term, Kelly thinks the airline can add roughly 50 more U.S. routes to its current network of 97 routes.



Malvern Daily Records Friends 2 Follow