Changes coming to AMA

The Wright Amendment expires later this year, meaning that some changes are in store for an air carrier that serves Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

Southwest Airlines, headquartered at Dallas Love Field, will reduce its daily service at AMA from seven flights to five.

What’s the connection?

Well, the Wright Amendment, enacted in 1974, was meant to protect the then-new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by restricting travel from Love Field. Southwest Airlines planes couldn’t take off for destinations without having to stop first in close-in locations. The amendment, named after its author, former U.S. Rep. Jim Wright, D-Fort Worth, has been scrapped now that D-FW has grown up and become one of the world’s pre-eminent air terminals.

What’s in store for AMA? Two fewer Southwest flights daily, for starters. Airport officials aren’t signaling any panic. They’ll continue to compete for air service in and out of their shiny new terminal. Southwest will be able to depart Love Field for farther non-stop destinations.

Amarillo, though, isn’t without some economic weapons of its own to toss at carriers looking for a place to land. It’s used one of them with effectiveness in the past. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation once paid American Airlines more than $1 million annually to retain jet service in and out of AMA. The money came from sales tax revenue it collected, believing that the jet service would attract business to Amarillo by providing more comfortable and speedier air service. Critics scoffed at the idea of paying for jet service, but it worked. American Airlines retained the jet service, then scrapped it for a time, and then returned it to Amarillo — as well as to other regional airports around the country.

I’m not too worried that AMA is going to be left in the cold once the Wright Amendment passes into history.

However, if business falters at AMA, the AEDC has a large pile of money at its disposal to dangle in front of those who are looking for some incentives to do business with Amarillo. The precedent has been set.

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