Stakes grow on Wright repeal
by Carolyn Barta    Wed, Oct 19, 2005, 11:15 AM

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Southwest President Colleen Barrett and petitions
The latest headline about Southwest Airlines is that it might relocate its headquarters if it can’t expand flying from Dallas Love Field. At a news conference Tuesday, it also announced that it has collected 214,000 signatures on its “Right to Fly” petition to show lawmakers public support for dumping the Wright Amendment.

The surprise is that it didn’t collect more signatures.

Southwest launched the petition drive in June, spending three months collecting the signatures on flights, at ticket counters, rent-a-car and other vendor counters, and some of their employees even canvassed door-to-door. Southwest employs some 5,000 people at Love Field, so that would amount to about 40 signatures per employee.

Consider that Love Field served 5.9 million passengers in 2004, almost all of them Southwest customers. Add the other Texas markets, such as Houston, and the potential for collecting more signatures abound. One would have expected one million or more signers.

Southwest has presented the petitions to U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, but Washington sources see little chance of any action on the Wright Amendment this year – unless the repeal is attached as a rider to some other bill.

That said, Southwest has made some progress in Washington by splitting the DFW congressional delegation and attracting some powerful senators as supporters of the repeal. The key chairmen, Rep. Don King (R-Alaska) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), however, seem to have zero interest in moving a bill.

As for the possibility that Southwest might move its headquarters from Dallas, that would be bad news. The company was born and raised here and is one that contributes to the area’s job and tax base. As Dallas’ fifth-largest taxpayer, it contributed $15 million last year and claims to create $2 billion to $3 billion in economic activity.

However, it might make good business sense to move if Love is shrinking relative to other markets and if company managers can’t get from here to their other big markets on Southwest planes.

The other side of that coin is that if American Airlines has to split its DFW hub between DFW and Love Field, its execs might not think this is such a good place for American’s headquarters, and have intimated as much.

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