DALLAS (CN) – Dallas is “an impossible situation” because of airlines’ threats of lawsuits and conflicting federal mandates on operations at Love Field, the city claims in Federal Court.
The city sued Delta, Southwest, Virgin America, American, United, Seaport Airlines, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration on June 17, seeking declaratory judgment and an injunction.
In 1979, Dallas Love Field was restricted to hosting only nonstop flights to other Texas cities or to a handful of neighboring states.
Known as the Wright Amendment, the federal law was intended to protect the viability of the newer, larger Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to the west.
After Southwest hinted it would relocate its headquarters away from Love Field, a compromise was reached in 2006, and all nonstop flights restrictions were lifted in October 2014.
Dallas says the repeal has “triggered demands” for more access to the now more-valuable 20 gates at Love Field.
The city says the defendant airlines want to fly 218 flights daily out of the gates, but that Love Field can “legally and safely” handle only 200 flights a day.
Under a sublease that will expire on July 6, Delta has permission to use some of Southwest’s gate. Southwest claims preferential lease rights and wants Delta out of its gates at the end of the contract.
Dallas says that American wants to add four daily flights at the airport, though the U.S. Department of Justice last year ordered it to turn over its gates to Virgin America as part of its merger with US Airways.
The city says Virgin America and its sublessee SeaPort are not interested in sharing their gates with Delta.
But the FAA has told Dallas that because of the city’s responsibility to foster competition between airlines, it must 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.
Dallas says this directive contradicts the 2006 agreement that repealed the Wright Amendment, which protects Southwest’s preferential gate rights from interference.
It says none of the options it faces are without significant risk to the city.
“The city could make a decision that appeared to benefit one airline and face certain litigation from other airlines,” the 45-page complaint states. “The city could comply with the federal agencies’ interpretations of the city’s legal obligations and face certain litigation from airlines. The city could comply with its obligations under leases and other contractual commitments but would thereby face liability from the federal agencies and other airlines. Most troublingly, the federal agencies have required that the city take actions that appear to violate the city’s lease obligations, but have refused to impose their mandate in a form that might allow the city to comply with the federal agencies’ directives without violating the city’s lease obligations; all while retaining the FAA’s option to deprive the city of aviation grant money if the city does not comply with the federal agencies’ interpretations of the city’s gate accommodation obligations.”
It is “impossible” for it to act legally in the best interest of the flying public and residents without court intervention, Dallas says.
Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst said in a statement that the lawsuit will let the parties argue their positions “in a structured setting” so that a federal judge can “allocate the gates in accordance with the law.”
Delta said Thursday that the DOT’s letter to the city in May confirmed Delta’s right under federal law “to serve Love Field indefinitely with its five existing flights.”
Dallas seeks a declaratory judgment clarifying its rights and obligations, and the airlines’ and costs.
It is represented by its City Attorney Warren Ernst.
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