Wednesday, January 19, 2005 Confusing rules tangle sky between Dallas, Nashville 1970s law enacted to protect Dallas airport restricts direct flights from many states. By BUSH BERNARD The Tennessean When Nashville musician Bart Elliott flies to his hometown, he usually books two separate flights to get there. When he gets to Houston, he has to go to baggage claim, collect his equipment and suitcases and haul them back to the airline ticket counter so he can check them in again for the last leg of his journey. You'd think he was going to some remote corner of the globe. But he's just going to Dallas. Why does he do it that way? Because thanks to the Wright Amendment, a law Congress passed in 1979 at the behest of then Texas congressman Jim Wright, that's the only way Elliott can get to Dallas from here on Southwest Airlines, his favorite airline. Elliott faces the same choice that a lot of Nashville travelers do - he could take a roundabout flight on Southwest to Love Field, which is closer to downtown Dallas, or fly directly to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on American Airlines or Delta Air Lines. The Southwest route takes longer, but many of its competitors' flights cost more, especially when Elliott travels on short notice. Officials with Nashville International Airport and Southwest hope to change the confusing rules. They are seeking to amend the federal law that limits any airline's ability to fly directly between Tennessee and Love Field. For all practical purposes that airline is Southwest, which commands 97% of the market at Love Field. Altering the rules would likely lower fares for travelers on Nashville-Dallas routes and help Southwest, which accounts for more than half of the 8 million passengers using Nashville International Airport. It's an issue of cost and convenience for Nashville travelers, insists Nashville Airport President Raul Regalado. Dallas-Fort Worth airport officials say it's really just a local issue and Nashville would be better served trying to get Southwest to start using Dallas-Fort Worth International like every other airline that served Love Field in the early 1970s. Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart said it's not easy to pick up and move operations to DFW. ''We looked at that, and it's just not feasible for the type of operation we have,'' he said. Southwest's low-cost business model hinges on quick turnarounds for flights. That's easier to accomplish at Love, where Southwest is the predominant airline and has between 120 and 130 flights a day, Stewart said. Dallas-Fort Worth is the nation's third-largest airport and averages about 2,000 flights a day, with American accounting for more than 75% of the passengers. Although Dallas-Fort Worth has offered Southwest $22 million in economic incentives to operate out of there, Southwest turned them down. ''We have invested a lot in the infrastructure here at Love Field,'' Stewart said. ''Why would you build a house in Dallas and after 30 years build a condo a few miles away?'' he said. ''We have a strange thing here that we believe in. It's called profitability.'' Southwest has begun a behind-the-scenes effort to get the law repealed, saying it hampers the company's ability to do business at its home airport and advertise in the city of Dallas. ''In Dallas, we can't put a billboard up that says we're the largest airline in California or Florida,'' Stewart said. ''It's against the law.'' The Wright Amendment has been a nagging dispute among Southwest, American Airlines and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport for years. Nashville officials stepped into the fray last fall, when U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, introduced a bill in Congress to open direct flights between Love Field and Tennessee. Blackburn's bill, which was co-sponsored by all of the state's members of Congress, died in committee when Congress ended its term earlier this month. She said she plans to reintroduce the measure. Dallas-Fort Worth International Chief Operating Officer Kevin Cox said Nashville is meddling in a local squabble between Southwest and Dallas-Fort Worth. ''We would not be nearly as presumptuous to go to Nashville and tell them where they ought to fly in or out of their city,'' Cox said. ''We understand their desire to get Southwest Airlines to fly,'' he added. ''But we think the more immediate, quickest and surest way to get that to occur is to petition Southwest to fly out of the airport that was built and agreed to by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth as the principal airport.'' American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said that requiring Southwest to fly from Dallas-Fort Worth instead of Love is the only way to have fair competition in the Dallas market. ''It's a little disingenuous to say Southwest is somehow hampered from serving Nashville from the Dallas-Fort Worth area because they are not any more than any other airline is,'' Wagner said. Nashville's Regalado said it's a nationwide issue. The agreement reached in 1979 came when airlines were heavily regulated and Southwest was a Texas-only operation. ''The times have changed dramatically,'' Regalado said. ''It's free and open competition. . For any airport to stand in the face of all this to say they want protection from competition, and to say that with a straight face, is not in touch with the real world.'' Elliott, who flies to Dallas between six and a dozen times a year, said he, too, wants to see the law changed. ''I think it would be a good thing, especially in this day and age, the way airlines have been,'' he said. ''Competition is good.'' Attached Photo: A Southwest Airlines flight takes off from Nashville International Airport. There are no direct flights from Nashville to Dallas' Love Field because of a 26-year-old federal law passed to protect Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.