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AA heading to Love

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Oct 12, 2004
American to fly from Love

[SIZE=+1]Carrier shifting some routes from D/FW after Bush signs bill allowing flights to Missouri
[SIZE=-1]08:56 PM CST on Wednesday, November 30, 2005

[SIZE=-1]By ERIC TORBENSON / The Dallas Morning News[/SIZE]
The Wright fight is on at Love Field – officially.
Moments after President Bush signed a bill that opens Missouri to flights from Dallas Love Field, American Airlines said Wednesday that it would resume flying from the city airport.
American, which has three gates at Love and last served the airport in 2001, said it has formally notified officials there that it intends to start service as soon as it can "obtain and prepare appropriate facilities."
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American is shifting resources from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport reluctantly, out of concerns that many of its customers might otherwise start traveling from Love Field on other carriers.
Meanwhile, at Southwest Airlines, which initiated the battle for long-haul service from its home airport a year ago, the mood was like "Christmas morning," spokesman Ed Stewart said.
"We knew it was coming, but we were just ecstatic," said Mr. Stewart, who was the first in his office at Southwest's headquarters to confirm the signing of the appropriations bill about 4:15 p.m. Dallas time.
It's expected that the low-fare carrier will offer flights from Love to both St. Louis and Kansas City starting as soon as mid-December. Details will be disclosed today.
Missouri is the ninth state that can be served from Love under the law, enacted in 1979 largely to protect D/FW Airport.
Initially, the Wright law limited commercial flights from Love to cities within Texas and its four contiguous states. In 1997, Congress added Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi, but Southwest hasn't added nonstop service to those states from Love.
Missouri, with two major markets in St. Louis and Kansas City, offers the biggest chink in the Wright wall. Some believe its addition to the perimeter could mark the beginning of the end of the Love restrictions.
For Fort Worth-based American, Love represents challenges more than opportunities.
The world's largest carrier faces a delay -- perhaps several months -- before its silver planes can duel for passengers at Love. The carrier's Love gates lack the jet bridges used to connect planes to the terminal, as well as computers to link with American's reservations and operations systems.
That could give Southwest a healthy head start.
Still, American isn't taking Love lightly. It will use planes from its fleet of 710 large jets, not the smaller regional jets flown by its American Eagle affiliate.
American's Love flights will come at the expense of service elsewhere in its domestic network, including its 840 daily departures at D/FW, its largest hub.
Until it gets the Love gates ready, American plans to continue to match Southwest's Dallas fares from D/FW.
But ultimately its plan is to shift some service because American contends it would lose less money at Love than it would by remaining at D/FW and matching fares.
Missouri could represent a key test for advocates of repealing Wright.
Southwest believes fares at D/FW would fall in concert with the new service it would introduce at Love. That would stimulate more local traffic at both airports and help the region, its executives say.
Southwest's Mr. Stewart said he expects the results to be favorable and push other states to pursue their own exemptions. "We've got one down and 41 more to go," he said.
The Dallas-based carrier released updated figures Wednesday from the Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, which this year conducted a study on behalf of the airline that backed repealing Wright. The new study uses the latest fare data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Of 15 cities picked as likely Southwest destinations from Love, American's average fares from D/FW have increased on 12 routes since the end of 2004.
The largest American fare increases came on flights between D/FW and both St. Louis and Kansas City. American's fares to St. Louis rose an average of $47. They were up $37 to Kansas City.
In October, American lowered its business fares to those cities, a move likely to bring down the average fares to those specific markets when the government's fourth quarter data are collected.
Based on the new fare data, Campbell-Hill said, the annual fare savings to passengers would now be $776 million a year if Wright is lifted and Southwest adds service on all 15 routes.
American had not seen the new figures from Campbell-Hill, said Tim Wagner, an American spokesman. Previously, researchers hired by American disputed Southwest's ability to create new traffic because business fares have fallen so much this year.
Mr. Wagner reiterated American's position that Southwest should move to D/FW to fly long-haul flights.
"Any savings customers might get from Southwest offering service could be realized at D/FW without having to change any federal laws because fares and service are not dependent on Love Field," he said.
An advocacy group representing Love Field neighborhoods said that the new law wasn't unexpected, and neither was American's move to launch flights from Dallas.
"I had a feeling they would come," said Pat White of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee, which is concerned about noise and pollution from additional commercial flights.
As for American bringing planes to Love that will be louder than Southwest's Boeing 737s, "there's really not much we can do to stop them," she said.
Other observers praised the development as a good first step to bring more air competition to Dallas.
"We continue to believe the traveling public would be best served by the immediate removal of the through-ticketing restrictions at Dallas Love Field and repeal of the Wright amendment, phased in over two to five years," said Corey Hill, spokesman for the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
Some North Texas travelers were also pleased by the news.
"I'm very excited," said Addison resident Ann Heidger, who has relatives in St. Louis and flies there three or four times a year. "It's going to be so much easier to get up there for a quick weekend."
Her only regret is that the new lower-fare flights to St. Louis didn't come in time for her Christmas ticket, which is a $385 non-stop on American.
"I would hope Southwest's fares are a little lower than that."
Staff writer Robert Dodge in Washington contributed to this report.
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