Home Consumer choice: FAA legislation deadline nears on adding flights to Reagan National Airport
Politics, US News

Consumer choice: FAA legislation deadline nears on adding flights to Reagan National Airport

airplane in sky
(© Jag_cz – stock.adobe.com)

Congress faces a Friday deadline to pass Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) legislation that would direct aviation policy for the next five years.

Among the issues under negotiation by lawmakers and airline industry stakeholders is whether or not to add flights to Reagan National Airport (DCA). A current compromise would allow for just five additional flights into and out of Reagan each day.

Most consumers are unaware that the lack of choice for domestic flights across the country is a matter of federal regulation, not a calculation made by airlines. In 1966, what’s known as the “perimeter rule” was enacted to limit Reagan flights to a 650-mile radius. The rule was enacted to encourage consumers to make use of the newly established Dulles International Airport (IAD) and relieve the D.C. area of noise pollution and traffic associated with Reagan. The perimeter was expanded in 1981 to 1,000 miles, and again in 1986 to the present 1,250-mile perimeter, which goes hand-in-hand with the “slot rule” which limited DCA to 60 flights beyond the perimeter departing each hour.

“Consumers everywhere should be asking themselves why Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. are being forced to operate like it’s 1986. The needs of travelers have changed dramatically, as has the technical capacity of D.C. area airports that serve them. We’d like to see the perimeter rule dissolved altogether, but if five extra flights for DCA is what allows Congress to keep the skies open for business, then that will have to do for now. Zero expansion is unacceptable,” Stephen Kent, media director of the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said.

A recent analysis by the American Action Forum (AAF) shows how Washington D.C. became such a mess for travelers.

“Air travel demand has increased. Between 1999–2019, the number of passengers carried at DCA increased from 13.9 million to 23.6 million. Similarly, the IAD passenger count went from 15.9 million to 24.3. Even with the three expansions of the perimeter rule over this period, passenger volume at IAD increased by over 50 percent,” the analysis states.

Competition between airports is supposed to be part of the business, especially for a metro area with more than one point of entry such as D.C., NYC and Los Angeles.

“When a traveler is scanning Google Flights for the best way in or out of Washington, D.C., they may not even realize that the option of DCA is often more expensive by design. Numerous studies have shown that travelers stand to save an average of $75 on DCA flights if airlines had more available slots for departures, not to mention time costs imposed by connecting flights that airlines would rather not make. Travel is stressful enough as it is for consumers without artificially imposed barriers to efficiency and competition in the DMV [D.C., Maryland, Virginia],” Kent said.

The Washington Post reported that Maryland and Virginia lawmakers are aligning against adding flights because it will increase noise, the risk of collisions, and add more delays for flights. Augusta Free Press has reported the same in recent months.

“That’s just not true,” Kent said. “Availability of flights will reduce costs and give airlines more flexibility in offering flights to consumers. Delays are increased by slot rules for departures. A recent study from George Mason University showed that 78 percent of noise complaints regarding just Reagan National are driven by a single household in the area. You shouldn’t hamstring mobility for an entire region when complaints are so marginal.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.