Because his house rests near a Love Field runway, Jim Lee has some problems that many of us never even think about. His conversations are interrupted and his television drowned out every time a 737 pulls out of the busy commuter airport. Often he is awakened in the middle of the night by a Southwest Airlines orange and gold bird as it embarks to “spread love” all over Texas. Lee is upset and getting more upset by the day. He says he doesn’t need any paid consultant to tell him what he knows all too well: Love Field is loud and getting louder.
Lee is part of a growing army of Love Field area residents who say Southwest Airlines chief Herb Kelleher has broken a promise he made to the city council in 1981. Kelleher promised to voluntarily phase out older, noisier jet aircraft for modern, quieter jets, called Stage 3 aircraft by the FAA. If things don’t improve by year’s end, the residents say they’ll ask the council to impose mandatory noise controls on Southwest and Muse Airlines.
“We’ve done everything we could to compromise,” says T.H. Golson, president of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee. “Now we feel violated, that we’ve been lead down a path. We’re very frustrated, disappointed and, believe me, a lot of people are downright angry.”
The Love Field citizens struck first last August by subtly raising the noise issue before the city council just before the city approved a lease option for Southwest to construct a flight simulator training facility and corporate headquarters at Love Field. At that time, a council memorandum from Dallas City Manager Charles Anderson reinforced the citizens’ allegations that Southwest was not meeting the standards imposed by the 1981 voluntary noise abatement program. “It seems clear that the air carriers’ plans regarding the use of Stage 3 [quieter] aircraft have changed since the noise abatement program was adopted in 1981, and this change threatens the viability of the voluntary program,” Anderson told the council.
A few members of the council, including Lori Palmer, voiced concern, but most of the council’s remarks were nothing more than gentle warnings. Kelleher says he feels Palmer, former president of the Love Field citizen group, is responsible for the renewed assault on Southwest.
Meanwhile, the battle lines are being drawn and it looks as if both sides are headed for a slugfest with the city council early next year. Apparently, the outspoken Kelleher was offended by the council’s suggestion of mandatory controls if voluntary programs fail to reduce noise levels. He’s responded with a threat to move Southwest’s headquarters to Houston if the city attempts to enforce a mandatory noise control program. “It seems we’re welcome everywhere but at our headquarters airport,” he says.
Lest we forget, Kelleher is quick to remind us that Love Field is an “enormous economic engine, adding approximately $2.9 billion per year to the Dallas economy without the expenditure or infusion of a single taxpayer dollar” and that before Southwest moved in, the Love Field area was in a state of “depression like devastation.”
The Love Field residents were particularly incensed by Kell-eher’s recent remarks, which seemed to suggest Southwest had no corporate responsiblity in eliminating noise. “Our business-the airline industry-is simply too complex, competitive and fast-moving to allow the city to try to control our aircraft operations through utilization of its powers as a landlord,” says Kelleher.
Now Golson says the residents are gearing up to raise the issue before the council after the 1981 noise control program ends December 31. After that date, a final city-commissioned consultant study will evaluate the noise levels and report to the council.
Golson says past city-commissioned consultant studies show noise levels were reduced slightly in 1982, stayed the same in 1983, but increased again in 1984. “There are more people living in the unacceptable noise level area today than when this whole thing started in 1980,” he says. “The threat [to move Southwest to Houston] has been used for an awful long time. Southwest has too much to gain by picking Dallas as its home. I think it’s all a bluff. But I’m not going to dare him.”