WTOP: DC-area lawmakers unite to oppose bill that would add more daily flights at Reagan National

WTOP, NEAL AUGENSTEIN

A proposal to add 28 daily flights, including more long-distance flights at Ronald Reagan National Airport is drawing strong opposition from lawmakers from Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.

“National is currently designed to accommodate 15 million passengers annually,” according to a May 23 letter sent to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, opposing the bipartisan bill introduced earlier this month by Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “Last year, the airport set a record of 24 million passengers,” the letter stated.

The letter was signed by Virginia representatives Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, Gerry Connolly, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer McClellan, and Bobby Scott. Also signing on were Maryland representatives Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, David Trone, Jamie Raskin, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, and Glenn Ivey, as well as D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

In the letter, the lawmakers said Reagan National “already experiences an above average number of missed approaches,” in part because of weather, high demand, airfield layout and runway length.

The letter argued that adding extra flights would likely exacerbate the situation, “disrupting an already complicated airspace and impacting safety.” The airspace around the nation’s capital is more restricted than in any other part of the country, according to the FAA.

A federal “perimeter” rule restricting long-distance flights was established in the 1960s. With few exceptions, it caps the distance of flights in and out of Reagan National at 1,250 miles.

The proposed bill would loosen the restrictions: “By limiting the number of flights in and out of National Airport, we are squeezing consumers — they are the ones paying the price,” said Johnson, a senior member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, in a statement introducing the Direct Capital Access (DCA) Act.

Without mentioning the bill’s sponsors, D.C.-area lawmakers said the priority should be on safety and efficiency of flights, “not the personal convenience of a comparatively small number of powerful and well-connected individuals.”

“No Member of Congress appreciates another representative meddling with the assets in their state or district,” wrote the D.C.-area representatives. “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 D.C.-area lawmakers said Dulles International Airport occupies 11,830 acres, while National airport is just 860 acres. “National was never intended to be a long-haul airport,” they wrote.

In addition, “the $6.8 million, 41-mile-long Silver Line expansion” opened less than six months ago, linking the Washington metropolitan area to Dulles. A recently announced $50 million grant from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide for construction of a new terminal at Dulles, the lawmakers wrote.

It’s not clear when the House committee will discuss HR 3185, the DCA Act of 2023.

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