Tuesday, October 12, 2004 Dallas-Fort Worth airport tempts low-cost carriers Southwest may fill gap left by Delta By David Koenig The Associated Press DALLAS - Southwest Airlines has grown into one of the nation's largest carriers, but at its Dallas home, it's still the regional Texas airline that started flying 30 years ago. Travelers in Dallas can take Southwest to Houston or Austin - and they do, in huge numbers. But they can't fly from Dallas Love Field to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or dozens of other major U.S. cities outside the Southwest. It's a federal law. That could change if Southwest expands to nearby Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where financially troubled Delta Air Lines is abandoning gates and dropping most of its flights by February. "Before Delta's announcement, we would have said we had no interest in being at DFW," Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said. "Obviously, if we find ourselves with more and more competition for customers that use Southwest out of Dallas and thought serving DFW was a way to defend against that ... we just couldn't ignore that." Why DFW? Southwest could fly from there to anywhere. It can't do that from Love Field because of the Wright Amendment, a 25-year-old federal law pushed by American Airlines and the city of Fort Worth to block competition for DFW after it opened in 1974. The law bans long-haul flights in or out of Love Field except by small planes. Southwest loses a lot of business because of the law, Kelly said. When the airline last studied the issue in the 1980s, the annual losses were estimated in the tens of millions, he said. Many local officials consider the law a success. It helped DFW grow into one of the nation's busiest airports, with convenient flights to cities across the country, which in turn helped pull employers to landlocked North Texas. The law, however, is a frequent source of irritation for Southwest customers flying out of Dallas, who must change flights before going on to distant destinations - or take another airline. Southwest flies 16 flights daily out of Detroit Metropolitan Airport and is the fourth-largest carrier there with 415,145 passengers there last year. Southwest has had other chances to start flying from DFW over the years, but always said no. "We stayed out of the big airports because they are so costly and because you would be competing with the legacy carriers," said Howard D. Putnam, who was chief executive at Southwest before leaving in 1981 to lead Braniff International, which ceased operations the next year. If Southwest stays out of DFW again, it could open the door for such low-cost airlines as JetBlue and AirTran. JetBlue spokesman Gareth Edmonson-Jones said the New York-based carrier believes other cities offer more profit than serving Dallas. JetBlue opened its 29th city, Phoenix, earlier this month. But Dallas could be more appealing to JetBlue by 2006, when the company takes delivery of smaller regional jets that are cheaper to operate than its Airbus A320s, Edmonson-Jones said. Attached Photo: Travelers check in for their flights on Southwest Airlines in Dallas Love Field Airport, Dallas, Texas. The Wright Amendment, a 25-year-old federal law, bans long-haul flights in or out of Love Field except by small planes.