Saturday, May 14, 2005

Why The Wright Amendment Fight Matters To Neighborhood Organizers

A storm has been brewing for months over the Wright Amendment, a law that Congress passed in 1979 that restricts airlines serving Love Field in Dallas, Texas to routes within Texas and adjacent states.

Bush Benard, Staff Writer for the Tennessean, has written two articles that I am aware of on the fight over the Wright Amendment. Benard’s primary thrust in one article was toward the affects of the amendment on Nashville travelers, namely those in the music industry. The tack he took in his most recent article directed attention toward internet publicity campaigns. Neither one mentioned any possible connection between the Wright Amendment and neighborhoods.

At first glance, a connection between the “Wright Fight” and neighborhood organizing may not be immediately forthcoming. The fight is generally about corporate giants (Southwest Airlines vs. American Airlines), opportunist business interests (like Nashville Chamber of Commerce and Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport), and political heavyweights (from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn to U.S. Sen. John McCain) fighting for power and influence in the “friendly skies.”

But Mr. Benard took a couple of glances good enough to lead him to the professional musician’s angle and to the website angle. One more glance might have led him to neighborhood angle (I suggested as much in an e-mail I wrote him back in January after his somewhat sympathetic treatment of flying musicians, who chose to fly Southwest, and who were thusly inconvenienced by flights from Nashville that stopped in Austin or Houston first in order to connect to Dallas).

But that angle fell to Dallas Morning News Reporter Emily Ramshaw, who reported in today’s edition that the neighborhood association of residents around Love Field is now mobilized to fight the repeal of the Wright Amendment. They have joined the fray not because they have a corporate or partisan dog in this clash of the titans. They oppose repeal because they believe that Southwest is betraying a trust just because Southwest has the clout to do so. Those Texans do not seem as concerned with charges of “protectionism” that one group of huge corporate firms is throwing at another group of huge corporate firms. They are concerned with being treated as equal partners with their neighbor, Southwest Airlines.

The Wright Amendment may have been passed for the wrong reasons; but at least one group of neighbors seems to have some pretty good reasons for defending it: they believe it shields their neighborhood from untrammeled growth and from unbearable airline traffic. They also see it as vital to holding Southwest accountable for keeping their word to their neighbors.

As a neighbor, I don’t blame them. As a traveler, I don’t mind hitting Austin or Houston on the way to Dallas. And I don’t see why such a minor inconvenience—which happened to be the trade-off for low prices in the first place—should worry any other Nashville traveler.

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