Repealing the Wright Amendment
Southwest Airlines logo used 2001-2014
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737–700 landing at San Jose International Airport, shown in the company's Canyon Blue livery, introduced in 2001 and used until September 2014. In late 2004, Southwest began actively seeking the full repeal of the Wright Amendment restrictions. In late 2005, Missouri was added to the list of permissible destination states via a transportation appropriations bill. New service from Love Field to Saint Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri quickly started in December 2005.
At a June 15, 2006 joint press conference held by the city of Dallas, the city of Ft. Worth, Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, the said parties announced a tentative agreement on how the Wright Amendment was to be phased out. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed Wright-related legislation on September 29, 2006 and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 13, 2006. The new law became effective on October 16, 2006, when the FAA Administrator notified Congress that any new aviation operations occurring as a result of the new law could be accommodated without adverse effect to the airspace.
Southwest started selling tickets under the new law on October 19, 2006. Highlights of the agreement are the immediate elimination of through-ticketing prohibitions and unrestricted flights to domestic destinations eight years after the legislation takes effect. Because of the agreement, nationwide service became possible for Southwest; the law also defined the maximum number of gates at Love Field. Southwest controls all but four of the Love Field gates. United Airlines controls two and American Airlines was initially supposed to operate from the other two, however, because of their merger with US Airways, they had to give up the two gates at DAL. Virgin America began leasing the two gates from American on October 13, 2014.
Southwest remains the dominant passenger airline at Love Field, maintains its headquarters, hangars, training centers and flight simulators adjacent thereto and reflects its ties to Love Field in its winged heart livery and its stock exchange ticker symbol (LUV).
In 2008, Southwest contracted with Pratt and Whitney to supply the proprietary Ecopower water pressure-washing system, which allows Southwest to clean grime and contaminants off engine turbine blades while the aircraft is parked at the gate. Frequent use of the Ecopower system is estimated to improve fuel efficiency by about 1.9%.
On March 6, 2008, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors submitted documents to the United States Congress, alleging that Southwest allowed 117 of its aircraft to fly carrying passengers despite the fact that the planes were "not airworthy" according to air safety investigators. In some cases the planes were allowed to fly for up to 30 months after the inspection deadlines had passed, rendering them unfit to fly. Records indicate that thousands of passengers were flown on aircraft deemed unsafe by federal standards. Southwest declined comment at the time and US Representative James Oberstar advised a hearing would be held.
Southwest paid US$7.5 million to acquire certain assets from bankrupt ATA Airlines in 2008. Southwest's primary reason for making the purchase was to acquire the operating certificate and landing slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport formerly controlled by ATA. While some preferential hiring was indicated at the time of the purchase, the transaction ultimately did not include the purchase of any aircraft, facilities or transfers of employees directly from ATA.
On March 12, 2008, Southwest Airlines voluntarily grounded 44 planes to check if they needed further inspection. The FAA claimed that Southwest Airlines flew almost 60,000 flights without fuselage inspection. Southwest Airlines faced a $10.2 million fine if they violated FAA regulations. There have also been rumors that the FAA knew about Southwest Airlines violations but decided not to fine the airline because it would disrupt their services.
On March 2, 2009, Southwest settled these claims, agreeing to pay the FAA fines of $7.5 million for these safety and maintenance issues. The original fine of $30.2 million – a sum which would have been the largest fine in the agency’s history – was lowered after a year of negotiations. The FAA gave Southwest two years in which to pay the fine.
On July 30, 2009, Southwest Airlines made a $113.6 million bid for bankrupt Frontier Airlines Holdings, the parent company of Frontier Airlines. Southwest planned to initially operate Frontier as a stand-alone carrier, eventually absorbing the airline and replacing Frontier's aircraft with Boeing 737s. Less than one month after submitting its bid, Southwest learned on August 14 that it had lost the initial bidding to Republic Airways Holdings and elected not to counter or pursue the deal further. Southwest stated that its requirement for pilots' unions at both companies to reach a negotiated (not arbitrated) agreement as a condition of acquisition was a key factor in its abandonment of its bid.
On August 26, 2009 the FAA investigated Southwest for installing improper parts on about 10% of its jets. The work was performed by an outside maintenance company. The FAA stated that the parts do not present a safety danger, but the airline was given until December 24, 2009 to replace the parts with those approved by the FAA.