Inside NoVa: Northern Virginia members of Congress oppose increasing long-distance flights at Reagan National

INSIDE NOVA, BEN PETERS

Washington-area Democrats in Congress continue to oppose changes to rules that govern capacity at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, as lawmakers fear the changes could lead to increased crowding at the small airport.

In light of a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill Congress is slated to take up later this year, the lawmakers penned a letter to House of Representatives transportation committee leadership opposing changes to slot rules at the airport that outline limits on aircraft density, as well as the perimeter rule that governs how far planes can travel from Reagan National.

The lawmakers asked Republican House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri and Ranking Member Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat of Washington, to pass an FAA reauthorization bill that leaves intact the current airport regulations. A spokesperson for the Republican-controlled transportation committee did not return a request for comment.

Under federal law, current slot rules at Reagan National allow up to 60 aircrafts to come and go from the airport each hour, and flights can not travel to airports more than 1,250 miles away. Some business advocacy groups in recent years have pushed for additional long-distance flights out of Reagan, arguing the perimeter rules are outdated and hurt customers and businesses.

But regional lawmakers who signed the letter, including Democratic Northern Virginia Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Va.-10th, Abigail Spanberger, Va.-7, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, Va.-11th, argued Reagan National isn’t intended to be a long-distance airport, a need they say is filled by Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.

“Adding slots or expanding National’s perimeter would further strain facilities at National,” the lawmakers said.

“Our priority should be the safety and efficiency of flights, not the personal convenience of a comparatively small number of powerful and well-connected individuals,” they said. “No Member of Congress appreciates another representative meddling with the assets in their state or district. We, too, strongly oppose any attempts by other Members and special interest groups to dictate operations at these airports for their own personal convenience at great cost to our communities and constituents.”

The lawmakers said Reagan National, which is substantially smaller than Dulles, is past capacity in terms of passengers served annually. They said the airport’s infrastructure has limited capacity that is being “stretched thin.” Safety is also a concern at National since it experiences an above average number of missed approaches and early turnouts because of weather, high demand, airfield layout and runway length. Dulles’ larger size allows more space for planes to land and take off, they said.

“Further crowding, longer lines, and more delays at National Airport at the expense of Dulles is not good for passenger safety, the customer experience, or our regional economy,” Connolly said in a statement to InsideNova. “Unfortunately, that does not stop the airlines or Members of Congress who want direct flights home from attacking the slot and perimeter rules at National every chance they get.”

To further bolster their claim that Dulles should be the region’s solution for long-distance air travel, the lawmakers noted the airport has also benefited from large infusions of government spending, including Metro’s Silver Line expansion that connects Dulles to Washington, D.C. Infrastructure spending is also slated to provide for construction of a new terminal at Dulles.

“This is a dangerously misguided bill that would cripple both DCA and Dulles airports — causing severe congestion and delays as well as cancelling service options that make it harder for Americans to come to our nation’s capital region,” Wexton said in a statement to InsideNova. “Changes to the perimeter rule are counterproductive and unnecessary, squandering significant investments of taxpayers dollars including in Metro’s Silver Line extension to make this regional airport partnership even more convenient and complementary for all travelers. A few Members of Congress have no business meddling with the business operations of our local airports for their own personal benefit.”

A spokesperson with Spanberger’s office declined to comment, referring back to the letter.

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