US senators from Virginia, Maryland urge no increase in long-distance flights at Reagan National

The four U.S. senators from Virginia and Maryland are urging Congress to keep the current rules for long distance flights from Reagan National Airport as they are.

The senators wrote both House and Senate members who oversee airports not to change the long-distance flight rules at Reagan National, which have been in place since 1986 and limit the number of flights more than 1,250 miles.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, of Virginia, and Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, sent a letter on Friday to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Commerce and House Transportation & Infrastructure committees opposing any changes to the slot and perimeter rules.

These are the rules that govern the number of flights that can safely operate out of Reagan National and the distance of those flights.

“As the House and Senate work toward a final FAA reauthorization bill, we urge you to reject any proposal to add additional flights at an overburdened DCA, which would negatively impact service and increase delays and cancelations for all passengers traveling to and from the airport,” the senators wrote.

The senators said in their letter that the airport is already overburdened and adding as many as 14 long-distance flights a day would reduce the margin of safety, increase cancellations and cause more delays.

“It should go without saying that the safety of the flying public must be our primary focus, particularly as a number of high-profile incidents and near-misses have brought home in a concrete way the need to safeguard the complex and interconnected infrastructure that keeps the National Airspace System safe. Adding ten additional flights into an already overburdened airport is directly contrary to this goal,” the senators wrote.

Plus, the senators believe it could impact the region’s two larger airports — BWI Marshall and Dulles International airports —  which have more space, longer runways, more terminals, larger baggage facilities and additional parking.

But several business groups want longer flights from Reagan National because of its convenience.

A group called the Capital Access Alliance, which includes Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and several tourism-related organizations, is pushing for the change. The group says the rule in the country is outdated, and as air traffic nationwide has increased by tenfold over the last 60 years, the current perimeter rule “isn’t fit for today’s air travel ecosystem in Washington, D.C.”

Plus, the Capital Access Alliance say a change would improve “access to and from our nation’s capital and will make air travel more affordable and efficient, create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue.”

However, the four senators noted Reagan National was designed to accommodate 15 million passengers annually, but it is on pace to serve 25 million travelers this year, a 66% increase above capacity. They say the extra 10 million travelers strain the airport’s resources and Reagan National had the third-worst cancellation rate among the country’s busiest airports in 2022.

The Capital Access Alliance is mounting a high-profile effort to get Congress to approve the additional flights. The group argues that the airport can handle an additional 1 million passengers a year and say Reagan National is “under-utilizing its capacity compared to other major airports in the top ten U.S. metros” and prior additions to allow more longer distance flights in and our of the airport on the banks of the Potomac River has and prior additions of beyond-perimeter flights there has “not negatively impacted the overall passenger growth at Dulles.”

The proposal to change the rule has already passed the House, and a vote could come this spring.

While Delta is supporting the change, another group — with United Airlines playing a prominent role — is opposed to the measure.

The Coalition to Protect America’s Regional Airports said adding flights from Reagan National “would create unnecessary gridlock, threaten jobs and local businesses, risk connectivity for countless communities, and increase congestion, delays, and noise.”

The coalition, which includes the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA), United Airlines, several Virginia chambers of commerce and 17 Virginia airports, said additional flights “would likely have a negative impact on operational performance and passenger experience,” and Reagan National “is more delay prone than most other airports.”

The MWAA contends that Reagan National is already operating at full capacity and has the busiest runway in the nation, with 819 daily takeoffs and landings on average.

“While (Reagan National) is very popular because of its proximity to Capitol Hill,” MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter in a statement, “it simply cannot accommodate all the flights that airlines want to send to Washington.”

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Dan Ronan

Weekend anchor Dan Ronan is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in business and finance reporting.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up