The (W)right to Fly

How little Legend Airlines beat mammoth American at its own game

Jim Wright also questioned the safety of Love Field in local interviews, talking publicly about the amendment for the first time in years.

"We don't have a safety issue at Love Field," says a longtime controller at the Love tower, who asked not to be named. "And the Wright Amendment never was--and never will be--connected to safety concerns."

When questions of safety are interjected into debate over Legend, McArtor fumes. "When I was FAA director, I used to throw people out of my office who hid behind safety arguments to make a political statement. It's inappropriate, cowardly, and unfair to the public who don't understand the air traffic control system."

At 4 p.m. on October 8, word came from the House-Senate Conference Committee that Legend had finally achieved legislative success. Hutchison's provision giving Dallas City Council veto power did not survive. What's more, three additional states--Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi--were unshackled from the bonds of the Wright Amendment. Two days later, the bill was passed by the House and Senate and awaits President Clinton's signature.

Legend plans to lease six jets and immediately begin overhauling them, which will include upgrading them to Stage 3--the quietest aircraft level, which will be required of all commercial aircraft by 1999. About 600 new jobs will be created at Dalfort almost immediately. McArtor must also secure $32 million from investors by Christmas. He will not reveal the names of potential investors because several of them, he claims, already have received personal calls from Crandall.

Legend suspects it hasn't heard the last from American and Robert Crandall. "I believe American Airlines will do whatever it has to do, whatever it can do to prevent Legend from operating."

McArtor was not surprised at how ferociously American fought to keep Legend on the ground. "But I was disappointed to see the level to which elected officials would go to stifle competition," he says.

Legend still has to contend with a lawsuit from Fort Worth and the opposition from angry neighbors of Love Field worried about increased noise. Bartos, as well as members of other Love Field neighborhood groups contacted by the Observer, claim the concerns about noise are unwarranted. Bartos is in the process of building a house in an expensive development a half-mile from Love Field, which is 2,500 feet from the airfield flight path.

"Do you think I'm stupid enough to be building a house I think will lose value?" Bartos asks.

Kathy Murdock, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Walnut Hill, doesn't believe the noise level will increase that much. "Most of the noise comes from corporate jets," she says. "And the inconvenience is far outweighed by the economic benefits a revived Love Field will bring to the area."

Even when it comes to the noise issue, there is reason to believe that American Airlines is helping foment neighborhood concern. Love Field Citizens Action Committee, the neighborhood group that is most opposed to expanded flights at Love Field, is running ads on six radio stations this week asking for listeners to call their city council members to voice opposition to changes at Love Field. And who paid for those costly ads? According to city hall documents, American Airlines picked up the $2,500 tab for the ads the committee is running on city-owned WRR-FM.

Now that Legend is almost cleared for takeoff, the question remains whether they can actually make their business fly. But even if they fail, it is clear they helped chart some new, important territory.

Shortly before the legislative decision came down, McArtor attended the annual Southwest Airlines Christmas party--traditionally held in the fall, so as not to conflict with its busiest traveling season.

Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher, who no doubt had been watching the events of preceding months closely, greeted McArtor warmly. "You guys are sure stirring things up," he said to McArtor, in whom he surely must recognize a kindred spirit.

"Well, Herb, I learned from you," McArtor replied. "If you don't make dust, you eat it.

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