Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Wrong Amendment

If you know anything about the US commercial aviation industry, you're probably familiar with the Wright Amendment, a piece of legislation that effectively prohibits one airline (Southwest) from flying non-stop to any airport beyond the states of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama from Dallas' Love Field. Two Senators, James Inhofe (R-Okla) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have recently introduced a bill to go one step further and completely close Love Field to commercial airline traffic.

The Wright Amendment was enacted shortly after the airline deregulation act of 1978 as a way to handcuff Southwest Airlines, a low-cost, upstart airline that continues to frighten the legacy air carriers by its ability to actually turn a profit in the airline industry. The Wright Amendment is currently under attack by a competing bill in the Senate, co-sponsored by Senators
John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan).

The Wright Amendment and the Inhofe/Harkin bill are designed to one thing and one thing only, protect the interests of American Airlines, the dominant carrier at Dallas/Ft.Worth International Airport. You can make a fairly weak argument that the original intention was to close Love Field after DFW was opened and therefore, it should be closed to commercial traffic and/or severely restricted. The supporters of this nonsense will say things about protecting jobs and the North Texas economy. Dallas/Ft. Worth may be the only place on earth attempting to restrict commercial air service in an attempt to bolster the local economy.

Allowing Congress to decide the winners in the aviation business is a bad idea. That's basically what we had prior to deregulation, and while there seem to be a lot of people who pine for the good old days, deregulation has allowed more people to fly to more places for less money. It's also allowed airlines to charge every passenger on a flight a different price for his ticket, charge $7 for a stale ham sandwich, and make the whole experience of flying slightly less enjoyable than a visit to the DMV. Consumers have voted with the wallets, and they have decided that price is the only thing that matters when flying. Southwest has proven that when a low-cost carrier comes to town, it stimulates demand for flying by allowing people to fly to places that they previously would have driven to or skipped altogether. The Wright Amendment and this new bill are pieces of blatantly anti-competitive legislation that benefit a single corporation and its congressional patrons.


MDS said...

Well said. Flying Southwest is a miserable experience, but not that much more miserable than the other airlines, which charge more. The taxpayer bailouts that the airlines get are absolutely astounding.

As an aside, I once saw an interview with Ralph Nader, and he was asked what company he'd buy stock in. His answer: "Southwest Airlines."

dhodge said...

I would just like to clear a common misconception about Southwest Airlines. If you look at their fare structure, you'll see that for advance purchases, they are often more expensive than other carriers. The difference with Southwest is that they don't jack their fares up to stratospheric levels for people who buy tickets on short notice.

Ralph Nader couldn't argue that Southwest is unsafe at any speed since they have never had a fatal accident in their 34 year history. Of course, anyone who is thinking about putting money into the airline industry should be aware of the old adage: "The best way to make a small fortune in commercial aviation is to start off with a big one."