Area airports’ out-of-sync growth could increase fees

WASHINGTON — The D.C. region’s three airports generate billions of dollars in economic activity and provide more than 300,000 jobs, but they’re competing for passengers and there are changes on the horizon.

Travelers who wish to fly in and out of the area have three options — Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

But Reagan National is growing too fast, and that could mean passenger fees will increase.

Over the years, Congress has expanded the federal law that limits short-haul perimeter flights at Reagan National. Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments on Wednesday that that’s a problem because Reagan National is at capacity.

“What’s happened, essentially, is that the perimeter rule has been year by year, piece by piece, chipped away by Congress — particularly members of Congress who like to see nonstop flights to their states and districts. Over time, it created tremendous growth at Reagan National Airport, even though that’s not really what they want to see.

“They want to see the growth at Dulles Airport, where there’s room for it. Dulles has seen a decline in domestic passengers as a result,” Letourneau says.

Reagan National Airport has turned into a bustling hub for travelers who value easy accessibility, but it was never intended to be that way. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority invested $5 billion to expand and upgrade Dulles Airport, but Reagan National is expected to overtake both Dulles and BWI in total passengers by the end of this year.

“We’re going to see another 2 million passenger growth at Reagan next year,” MWAA CEO Jack Potter says. “We need it to stop. We’re bulging.”

Potter says the increased traffic at Reagan National Airport puts a strain on its resources, and limited parking space and causes long delays at security checkpoints.

A $1 billion plan will help streamline the space available and make the airport more attractive for travelers, but an increase in the passenger facility charge — from $4.50 per passenger to $8.50 — is being pursued. That would have to be authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration.

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