An interesting turn of events this week at Dallas’s smaller airport: Dallas Love Field, the FAA has now stepped in to moderate a continuing fight between the local low cost carrier, Southwest Airlines and Atlanta home town Delta Airlines. The FAA is now looking into whether or not the City of Dallas and the Airport Administration have been operating improperly and whether they have failed to assure that Delta can continue operating at Love Field. If it is the case they have been unfair or operated improperly it may jeopardize the airports ability to apply for future grants, sanctions leveled against the airport, or even a judicial order of enforcement.
For those of you unfamiliar with what’s taking place at Love Field, when Dallas / Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) was built, a restriction was placed on Dallas Love Field in 1979 to insure that DFW would be successful. That restriction limited service on flights departing from Love Field to flights only destined only to other cities in Texas, with the exception of flights to neighboring states on aircraft configured with 56 seats or less. The Wright Amendment was revised in 2006 giving a final end to the Wright Amendment but with restrictions to the physical airport (Love Field) and capping the amount of gates the airport could operate with to a total of 20.
Southwest Airlines was the only airline to stay at Love Field after DFW opened, and continuing to operate from 16 gates to cities within the state of Texas and operate flights on to farther destinations from there. Delta and United Airlines resumed service to Love Field with 50 seat regional jets to their respective hubs later on. Virgin America won a bid for use of two full gates. United who operated two gates at Love Field, subleased one of the gates to Delta for their operations. Once the restriction was lifted for capacity, Delta began to fly 110 passenger Boeing 717 jets in place of their 50 seat aircraft.
Where is where things get tricky…
United decided it no longer wanted to operate from Love Field and made a deal with Southwest to sublease the gates. However this violated the previous agreement United had with Delta. United washed their hands and walked away leaving Southwest and Delta in a tricky spot. Both Delta and Southwest have already published their schedules and booked passengers on respective flights.
In a filing the last week of July, the city said, “…if Delta and Southwest can operate all proposed flights starting on or about Aug. 9, 2015, such operation would indicate that Delta’s operation did not unduly interfere with Southwest’s operating schedule.”
However, “the city remains concerned about the safety and feasibility of sustained operations of more than 10 daily flights per gate because of the constraints on Love Field,” the filing said. “By the date of the preliminary injunction hearing, all parties should have a better understanding of what is feasible.”
Delta has accused Southwest of boosting its schedule to keep Delta out. It said it asked Feb. 23 for the right to add eight more flights as of Aug. 15.
As of that date, “it was possible to accommodate an additional eight daily Delta flights at Love Field in light of the incumbent carriers’ then-current gate usage and without impacting their current or already announced, for-sale services,” Delta said in a filing last week. “Not coincidentally, on Feb. 26, 2015, Southwest first announced its intention to expand its flight schedule at Love Field to 180 daily flights as of Aug. 9, 2015.”
Not surprisingly, Southwest denied that its expansion was aimed at keeping Delta out.
The issue now at hand is now the subject of a U.S. District Court Case which was filed June 17th by the City of Dallas dealing from the repercussions of the Wright Amendment Reform Act. The Department of Transportation general counsel sent two letters to the city, one on December 17th last year and then again on June 15th of this year, advising Dallas officials that the airlines already operating at the airport must continue to be accommodated. Within days of receiving that notice, the City of Dallas asked the district court to jump in and referee the dispute.
Once the city filed its lawsuit about the dispute, each airline filed a cross-action; Southwest asking Delta to be removed, and Delta requesting that they be allowed to continue their operations.
At U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade’s suggestion, Southwest has agreed to let Delta continue using Gate 15 through Sept. 30 or after Kinkeade’s ruling, whichever comes first. Kinkeade has set hearings for Sept. 28 and 29.
One can only expect that the FAA investigation will continue well past the Sept 30th deadline. Especially since the FAA notice which was dated Friday and delivered Monday gives the City of Dallas 30 days to respond which already pushes it into September. It is expected that this whole investigation into what has been taking place will take six months or more.
In the meantime, the FAA states that it, “…strongly recommends that the City ensure the maintenance of the status quo at Love Field until this matter is resolved.”
“As stated above, FAA hereby provides notice that it may, if it deems it necessary, issue an interim order to require the City to maintain access to DAL for Delta so that it may continue its current pattern of service during the pendency of this proceeding,” it said.
For Southwest however this couldn’t come at a worse possible time. The airline is just now pushing up to its full flight schedule of 180 flights a day. Dividing all those flights across 18 gates equals out to about 10 flights per gate. Southwest has said that it has no room to accommodate Delta, while Delta said it certainly did when Delta first asked to be accommodated.
While it would seem two kids are having a hard time playing in the sandbox, according to the FAA, for now at least, Delta is here to stay.