January 11, 2016
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Delta Airlines can continue flying out of Dallas Love Field as its nasty gate dispute with Southwest Airlines moves toward trial, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade ruled Friday that Atlanta-based Delta’s five daily flights out of two gates at Dallas Love Field do not “unduly interfere with” Dallas-based Southwest under a gate sublease that expired on July 6.
Southwest dominates the airport, leasing or subleasing 18 of its 20 gates from the city.
In granting Delta a preliminary injunction, Kinkeade cited the “chaos and inconvenience” and “great disservice to the public” if Delta were kicked out at this stage of litigation.
Dallas sued both airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration in June last year, citing an “impossible situation.” Dallas said the FAA had ordered it to provide Delta long-term gate accommodations.
Dallas said this would force it to violate the terms of agreements to repeal the Wright Amendment of 1979, a federal law that protected the newer, larger Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport by banning long-distance, nonstop flights out of Love Field.
Travel restrictions at Love Field were lifted in 2014 after Southwest hinted eight years earlier that it would move its headquarters away from Dallas.
The Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 protects Southwest’s preferential gate rights from interference. The city says it is in a Catch-22: that it will be sued if it acts either way.
The city also sued Virgin American, saying the Burlingame, Calif.-based airline is not interested in sharing its two gates with Delta.
Kinkeade wrote that Southwest’s claim of Delta’s flights “unduly interfering” with its operations is “simply not supported” by the evidence.
“Up until its announcement on February 26, 2015 of increased flight operations, the evidence establishes that Southwest was able to accommodate Delta without ‘unduly interfering with’ Southwest’s own operations,” the 42-page opinion states. “Taking the court’s definition of ‘unduly interfere with’ into consideration, Southwest could have voluntarily accommodated Delta’s five flights without unduly interfering with Southwest’s schedule when the initial request was made in June 2014.”
Preferential use of airport facilities under the lease means the signatory airline is the primary, but not sole, user of the facilities, Kinkeade wrote.
“Southwest does not have an unfettered right to the gates it has leased; and, despite Southwest’s argument to the contrary, the preferential use rights are subject to the accommodation provision contained in the lease agreement, which Southwest agreed to and signed,” the opinion states.
“Southwest’s position is that accommodation is not required as long as they are using the gates at full utilization of 10 flights daily out of each gate.”
Kinkeade noted that congressional subcommittee hearing testimony during discussions about repealing the Wright Amendment show the accommodation procedures “were intended to help ‘fit those people in’ when a requesting airline makes an accommodation request.”
“The court finds Southwest and the city are playing a game of musical chairs with Love Field gate space, and with Virgin’s ‘chairs’ not in play in this game, there’s no ‘chair’ for Delta – Southwest occupies all 18 gates and the city consents. The court finds Delta has established it suffered harm from Southwest’s failure/refusal to follow its contractual obligation under section 4.06F of the lease agreement.”
Dallas officials declined to comment on the ruling Friday.
Delta said it was “pleased” and looks forwards “to bringing the people of Dallas the benefit of Delta’s industry leading product and global network at this airport.”
Southwest said, “This isn’t the end of the case.”
From Courthouse News.
June 23, 2015
By David Lee
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.
From Courthouse News.
June 22, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Dallas is “an impossible situation” because of airlines’ threats of lawsuits and conflicting federal mandates over disputed gates 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.
From Courthouse News.