The latest salvo in the ongoing battle between Delta and Southwest over gates at Love Field involves the FAA stepping in to say they think that Dallas is required to accommodate Delta:
“If FAA’s investigation establishes violations of the City’s sponsor obligations and related Federal law, FAA may issue a determination that the City is in noncompliance with its Federal grant obligations in its operation of DAL [Dallas Love Field],” the FAA said in its “notice of investigation.”
“As a result, the City could be found to be ineligible to receive new FAA grants and payments under existing grants until this matter is resolved. Further sanctions, including a judicial order of enforcement, are also possible,” said the notice.
“The FAA strongly recommends that the City ensure the maintenance of the status quo at DAL until this matter is resolved,” the notice said.
“As stated above, FAA hereby provides notice that it may, if it deems it necessary, issue an interim order to require the City to maintain access to DAL for Delta so that it may continue its current pattern of service during the pendency of this proceeding,” it said.
Now, the FAA isn’t saying that Southwest needs to give up gates. But, considering they operate almost every gate at DAL (other than two controlled by Virgin America) that would seem to be the solution they’re intimating. They’re a bit late to this fight, which has been going on for months now.
And, if they really felt this strongly, one would think they could have asserted this opinion when gates were reshuffled in past years. American was forced to divest gates (that, IIRC, they were leasing to Delta) as part of their merger with US Airways. Those gates went to establish new service by Virgin America. Everyone was really happy to see some other low-cost competition in DAL. Many of the reports around the award to Virgin centered on the fact that the powers that be were encouraged by the growth of low-cost carriers. And, that appears to be working, as American is continuing to see pricing pressure due to carriers like Southwest, Spirit and Virgin.
Maybe the FAA secretly didn’t agree with this reasoning, but I find no public record of their displeasure. Maybe it’s just possible the FAA can’t do math. If Southwest controlled 16 of the gates and United controlled 2, how exactly was Delta supposed to be guaranteed continued service if the only other two gates were awarded to Virgin America? Just because United chose to lease their gates to Delta for a period of time doesn’t mean they should be obligated to do so in the future.
Similarly, Southwest and Virgin shouldn’t be asked to change their operations. Hell, Southwest operates almost twice as many flights per gate as Delta has at Love Field. They’re providing more flights to more places than Delta is. Virgin is only doing 5 flights a day out of their gates.
I have no issue with the FAA wanting everyone who had service at Love Field to have the right to continue it. I *think* that’s their argument here, though I guess they could just be arguing Delta should have service, as opposed to Frontier showing up tomorrow and wanting to offer flights. It stands to reason that if the accommodation was so important, then letting Virgin America have two gates that aren’t utilized to full capacity was a bad idea.
The complaint by the FAA seems half-baked. They complain about the Love Field situation and don’t offer a solution.
The Wright Amendment was an ill-conceived notion that survived way too long and was finally rectified. The current position by the FAA seems ill-conceived as well. But, maybe Love Field is always destined to have some form of controversy. The decision to limit the number of gates to 20 seemed arbitrary, especially given how much established DFW was (did it really need protection from DAL when this decision was made 10 years ago? It certainly doesn’t need it now). Maybe the FAA should buy some plywood and paint and require the airlines to build a few more gates, as View From the Wing recommends.
I’ve eaten so much popcorn watching this unfold I need some antacid.