Wolves and Sheepdogs

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Posted August 17, 2005 by DAN MCGRAW in News

Looney Tunes had a cartoon show in the 1950s that says more about the state of local politics in Dallas and Fort Worth than anything a poly/sci prof could ever articulate. The cartoon featured the relationship between Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf. Sam was there to protect his sheep, and Ralph was there to try to steal them away.

Every morning, Sam and Ralph would arrive at the pasture, chatting amiably, and punch their time clock. The two would then begin to fight. They’d take a break for a friendly lunch, then battle some more in the afternoon. At the end of the day, Sam and Ralph would march out together, punch their time cards, and look forward to meeting again in the morning.

The moral of the story is that enemies often fight because they’ve always fought. The reasons get lost over time. Just punch the time clock and do what you did the day before.

Which brings us to the battle shaping up between Dallas and Fort Worth over the repeal of the Wright Amendment. Politicians from both sides of the Metroplex are gearing up for the age-old battle involving the restrictions that prevent Southwest Airlines from flying non-stop to cities around the country from Dallas’ Love Field. Since the Wright Amendment was first passed in the late ’70s, Southwest has been able to fly non-stop only to seven states close to Texas. It was designed to protect Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport when it first got started.

So Dallas and Fort Worth are once again punching their time clocks and doing battle because they always have. And if you think this debate isn’t about old habits, listen to what Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said last week: “It is vital that we continue to support the largest economic engine in this region and reaffirm that a deal is a deal. We need to do what our forefathers have done and keep our word.”

No offense, Mayor Mike, but political decisions might be better made on what’s best for those who live now – specifically the flying public – and not the forefathers who crafted a deal decades ago.

The Wright Amendment is obsolete for a number of reasons. The original deal was done to make sure this new airport would grow and to ensure that the pastureland between Dallas and Fort Worth would develop. The airport is now one of the busiest in the country, and the land around D/FW is full of new homes and chain restaurants and crowded freeways.

The Wright Amendment was also crafted under the old rules of the airline industry. The hub-based model was the norm back then, and big airlines like American needed a huge, non-competitive airport where its passengers could make easy connections.

Southwest’s success broke up that model. Along the way, many cities developed two airports to serve the public – Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago – and the competition reduces fares. Southwest claims business fares at D/FW are 48 percent higher than the rest of the country, and North Texans would save more than $600 million a year if Southwest could fly wherever it wanted to out of Love Field.

Economic numbers can always be devised to back up claims, so Southwest’s studies must be taken with a grain of salt. But D/FW Airport and American say that allowing more flights out of Love Field will cripple the billion-dollar “economic engine” of the big airport. Fort Worth leaders argue that repealing the amendment will cause big bucks to leave Tarrant County and cross over into Dallas.

And that’s where the political machinery in this argument has missed the mark. This debate is not about Fort Worth and Dallas. It is about reducing airfares, which will help the regional economy. If airfares fall, North Texas travelers will have more money in their pockets to spend in other ways. More businesses might relocate here if airfares are more in line with the rest of the country.

The irony is that Fort Worth leadership has always hated the notion that the D/FW area is just one big market. Dallas was always that bully to the east. You can toss around all the “where the west begins” slogans you want, but the reality is that Fort Worth and Dallas are part of the same regional economy. And the D/FW Airport helped make it that way.

So put the sheepdog and wolf costumes away, stop punching the clock every morning, and come up with a plan that saves all North Texas citizens some money. Doing battle in the name of the forefathers makes no sense here. The battle should be between Southwest and American on a level playing field. The winners will be air travelers and the regional economy.

The Wright Amendment may have been right in the 1970s, but it is the wrong amendment now. With the price of fuel pushing airfares up above the flight lanes, we can’t afford the Ralph and Sam show any longer.

Dan McGraw is a Fort Worth author and freelance writer.

 


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