An antiquated law that was patently unfair when it was enacted back in 1979 likely will remain in effect thanks to Texas congressmen closing ranks around protected special interests.
The Wright Amendment, which prohibits Southwest Airlines from flying long-haul routes out of Love Field in Dallas, is long overdue for the scrap heap in a day and age when the party that controls both Congress and the White House is championing the cause of unfettered free enterprise.
And yet it is a powerful Republican lawmaker, Rep. Joe Barton from Ennis, Texas, who is standing in the way of hearings on a bill that would lift restrictions and let Southwest compete on equal footing with other airlines.
Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, uses some comments that can be classified only as ridiculous to justify his stance.
Barton said, “I don’t see that this effort to repeal the Wright Amendment is really going anywhere. So I’m not sure there needs to be a hearing on it.”
The reality of the situation is that the effort is not going anywhere because a congressman adhering to the good ol’ boys politics of yesteryear is doing all he can to protect Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and its largest carrier, American Airlines, from the basics of free enterprise — healthy competition. Is there any doubt whose pocket Barton is in?
Barton also said, “They (Southwest) ought to come out to a major airport and compete head-to-head with the big boys.”
Well, it all depends on how you define “big boys.” Yes, American runs a much larger operation, but that is due in part to government restrictions on Southwest.
Despite those federal roadblocks, Southwest has grown into a major player in the skies.
In fact, when the airline industry was suffering the effects of 9/11, it was Southwest that found ways to maintain profitability while all the other carriers, including American, were begging for government bailouts to keep from going out of business.
Under that definition, Southwest is the “big boy” in what should be, but isn’t, free market airline economics.
Barton and other Texas lawmakers are concerned about what might happen if Southwest is allowed to fly to all its destinations out of Love Field. One study estimated that American could lose $300 million if restrictions were removed from Southwest’s operations at Love. That’s based on the assumption that Southwest would charge lower fares than American does at DFW.
It’s obvious that most North Texas lawmakers are coming down on the side of DFW and American Airlines. At a recent Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce event, only two of the eight U.S. representatives on hand took Southwest’s side.
But competition is what Southwest is so good at. And it works. And that’s exactly what these protectionist members of Congress such as Barton fear.
This nation is quite proud of what free enterprise has meant throughout our history. And restricting Southwest’s ability to compete through political and bureaucratic means is completely foreign to those basic American instincts.
What Barton and the other Texas lawmakers who are guarding the Wright Amendment need to realize is the difference between what their political party is preaching and what they are practicing.