Friday, June 16, 2006

Every Silver Lining Has a Dark Cloud or How the Giants Kiss and Make Up

So, American Airlines and Southwest are now back on colluding speaking terms since they met for hours in a Las Colinas luxury hotel room, kissed and made up, and put the "Wright Fight" to rest for the next several years, unless Congress balks or the "armistice" falls apart.

Conservatives with aspirations are already spinning this decision as promotion of a "free" market and of fair competition, rather than calling it what it is: two proverbial bull elephants in a land of mice taking a break from tusk-sparing over turf. Nobody but small rodents ever stood the chance of actually being hurt, before, during, or after the strife.

Nonetheless neighborhood groups located around Love Field seem delighted with the decision:
Although these leaders were not on the stage or asked to make public statements during the hourlong unveiling of the plan, they were smiling broadly in the audience.

"This is a very, very impressive point in history," said Lori Palmer, founding president of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee and later a Dallas City Council member.

"My most important goal was to protect the neighborhoods, and this package does that," said Ms. Palmer, who lived under the airport's flight path from 1973 to 1999. She lives in Kaufman County but continues to serve as a consultant to the committee.
Joyce Lockley, another longtime neighborhood leader, was also smiling as she clutched her copy of the proposed changes to the Love Field Master Plan.

"When we helped write this plan six years ago, we thought everything was settled," she said. "Now we have a new plan that's supposed to settle things again. I'm feeling cautious but hopeful."

Pat White, who co-chairs the Citizens Action Committee, said it was her group's idea to reduce the number of gates at Love Field – from 32 to 20 – if the Wright amendment flight restrictions are lifted in eight years. Fewer gates would keep the impact of larger airplanes and more flights "virtually neutral" on the surrounding residential areas, she said.

An analysis of the airport noise, for example, estimated that allowing 32 gates without the Wright amendment protections would blanket 31,874 airport neighbors with noise levels of 65 decibels or higher.

With just 20 gates and no amendment, the noisiest levels would affect 23,665 people.

The gate reduction also would hold down air pollution around the airport and cause less traffic congestion, concluded the study by DMJM Aviation and GRA Inc.

"It's a good agreement," said Ms. White, who has lived near the airport for 24 years.

"If everybody sticks to the deal, it's going to work."
All doctrinaire conservativism aside, neighbors are probably getting the most balanced and fair agreement that they may when titanic corporations clash. But at least one neighborhood organizer called it exactly what it is:
William H. Foster, a spokesman for Friends of Love Field, another neighborhood group, was frowning and sharing negative comments with anyone who would listen as the event concluded.

"What about the return to freedom and competition?" he implored after hearing that fewer gates would be shared by three companies, Southwest, American Airlines and Continental Airlines.

"That's a monopoly," he said. "Make that a triopoly."
Back to business as usual. And it's still not clear in the agreement that Nashville's musicians are going to be able to fly Southwest straight into Dallas rather than to Dallas via Austin or New Orleans or Houston, as they have to under the Wright Amendment.

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