Anyone in this “Land of Opportunity” who naively believes that all you need to launch a successful company is a good business plan, entrepreneurial savvy, financial backing and a healthy work ethic should spend an hour with Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher. We did earlier this week and it was a real eye-opener.
Kelleher’s travails relate directly to Arizona, and specifically to Valley travelers. His is a story of needless regulatory burdens imposed on his business that translate directly into higher costs for you, the consumer. So his fight is really our fight.
Kelleher has overseen the launch and rise of one of America’s most successful airlines — despite a series of legal and political barriers that never should have been thrown in his way. He’s overcome most, but one major political obstacle remains, and it’s hampering the company’s drive to be profitable during this time of great post-9/11 challenge for the entire airline industry.
As Kelleher told Tribune editors, he won a protracted legal battle waged by competing airlines when he started Southwest three decades ago. But just as he and fellow company execs toasted their success, along came then-U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, who concocted legislation to thwart these airline upstarts.
Like so many other destructive pieces of government meddling, the “Wright Amendment” purportedly was aimed at protecting something deemed worth protecting — in this case the then-brand new Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on the far outskirts of what was then the metro area. Southwest Airlines was determined to remain at Dallas’ Love Field, in the heart of the metro area, because it intended to serve short-hop fliers who would resist the long commute to the new DFW Airport.
The Wright Amendment prohibited airlines using Love Field from flying to any cities outside Texas and neighboring states. So it prevented Southwest from offering direct flights between Phoenix and Dallas.
Call it protectionist or call it anti-competitive — what it really is is anti-consumer. By all rights, Southwest Airlines should be able to compete for passengers traveling between the Valley and Dallas. But it cannot. And that is wrong.
Southwest and Kelleher have lived with this injustice for 26 years. They’ve done pretty well. Thanks to their business savvy and drive, Southwest is one of the nation’s largest and most successful airlines. But it has been hurt, along with every other major airline, by the industry plunge after 9/11. Last year Southwest’s core business was not profitable, though the company overall was able to show a profit due to its hedging on the fuel market. But that will only tide the company over for so long.
Southwest Airlines needs to compete — fully and on a level playing field. It deserves to do so.
Kelleher has met with several members of Congress, including Arizona’s Sen. John McCain, to win support for repealing the Wright Amendment.
He shouldn’t have to beg. The Wright Amendment is bad, unjust legislation that never should have been passed in the first place. Businesses should not have to contend with such onerous obstacles.
Congress has an opportunity here to show its support for free enterprise and its antipathy for injustice by repealing the Wright Amendment. It should do so — immediately and unanimously.