DALLAS (CN) – As Dallas asks a federal judge to settle a dispute over limited gate space at Dallas Love Field, Delta and Southwest Airlines are trading punches over whether Delta should be kicked out in two weeks.
Southwest operates a hub at the city-owned airport and leases 18 of the airport’s 20 gates from Dallas.
Delta has permission to use some of Southwest’s gate slots under a sublease set to end on July 6.
Delta wants to stay at Love Field, but Southwest wants it out at the end of the contract.
Dallas sued both airlines in Federal Court last week, plus Virgin, American, United, Seaport, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Dallas says it is in an “impossible situation” because the FAA requires it to provide Delta long-term gate accommodations at Love Field, so long as Delta maintains “the same pattern of service regardless of Southwest’s future gate” plans. The FAA requires this to encourage competition.
Dallas says this order contradicts an agreement to repeal the Wright Amendment of 1979, a federal law that protected the viability of the newer, larger Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, by effectively banning all long distance, nonstop flights out of Love Field.
After Southwest hinted it would relocate its headquarters away from Love Field, a compromise was reached and all nonstop flights restrictions were lifted in October 2014.
Dallas says the Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 protects Southwest’s preferential gate rights from interference. Now the city is in a Catch-22 dilemma, with none of its options being without significant risks for lawsuits.
Delta attorney Kenneth Quinn, with Pillsbury Winthrop in Washington, D.C., told city officials on Friday that the “crisis and chaos” the city is bemoaning “are of its own making.”
Quinn said Delta “will be seeking legal recourse” because it has “exhausted” its good-faith efforts to see through its request for gate accommodations.
“The city in effect is now abdicating its airport sponsor responsibilities at this federally funded airport, which has the highest single-airline concentration in the country and a unique statutory cap on gates, despite making repeated commitments to accommodate new entrants,” Quinn wrote in a 6-page letter dated June 19 .
“In filing its complaint, the city is attempting to invoke the limited resources of the federal court to make ab initio decisions that the airport sponsor, consistent with federal requirements and guidance, should have made long ago,” the letter states.
Quinn said Delta has “patiently waited” a year for the DOT-mandated accommodation, but that its “patience has come to an end.”
“The city appears to be engaged in anti-competitive, collusive behavior that ultimately hurts the traveling public by reducing competition and travel choices at Love Field,” Quinn wrote. “Unless the city can live up to its obligation under federal law and accommodate Delta’s five daily flights to Atlanta, Delta will have no choice but to file for emergency injunctive relief to avoid disrupting thousands of passengers.”
Quinn claims that in repealing the Wright Amendment, Congress said that nothing in the legislation was intended to relieve Dallas of its obligations to provide gate access at Love Field “on reasonable terms” and “without unjust discrimination.”
Southwest flatly called Delta a “trespasser” at its gates, if it follows through on threats to stay past July 6, in a request for a temporary restraining order and injunction filed Monday in support of the city’s federal lawsuit.
Southwest says it has already sold 25,000 tickets for five new flights from those gates in anticipation of Delta leaving.
“Delta’s current actions further indicate Delta’s intent to trespass,” the injunction request states. “Indeed, Delta is currently selling tickets for travel out of Southwest’s gates on July 6. Correctly perceiving the imminent disaster that Delta’s trespass is about to create, the city has filed this lawsuit.”
City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
In its lawsuit, Dallas said the lifting of nonstop flight restrictions has “triggered demands” from several airlines for more access at the airport.
It said the defendant airlines want to fly 218 flights daily out of the gates, but Love Field can “legally and safely” handle only 200 flights a day.
Dallas said American wants to add four daily flights in spite of being forced by the U.S. Department of Justice to turn over its gates to Virgin America last year as part of its merger with US Airways.
And it claims that Virgin America, which leases Love Field’s remaining two gates, and its sublessee SeaPort are not interested in sharing their gates with Delta.
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