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Virginia, Maryland lawmakers sound alarm on Senate approval to add flights to DCA

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In late April, two aircraft narrowly avoided collision on Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport‘s (DCA) runway, which is already the nation’s busiest.

New Federal Aviation Administration data show the danger of adding flights to DCA.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, both of Virginia, and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both of Maryland, shared the FAA data which demonstrates the detrimental impacts adding more flights at an overburdened DCA would have on flight safety and timeliness. New flights were approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and may be included in this year’s final FAA reauthorization bill.

In response to a request for information, the FAA provided an analysis of operations that found: 

  • DCA is operating at near peak capacity, and every slot during normal hours is fully allocated to existing commercial flights. Adding more flights, even at 6am or 11pm, would cause more delays into the next hour and cascading throughout the rest of the day. The FAA notes that DCA only has one primary runway for large body commercial airplanes, which means that most of the commercial flights in and out of the airport operate on a singular runway;
  • 20 percent of departures and 22 percent of arrivals at DCA already experience delays, with a delayed passenger at DCA currently experiencing, on average, 67 minutes of delays;
  • DCA is more prone to delays than other airports around the country, and any new flights added will only increase congestion and delays;
  • According to the FAA, an additional 5 round trip flights will increase delays by 725 minutes per day, leading to a total of 12,734 minutes of overall daily delay at DCA.

 “Just last week, two planes came within 300 feet of colliding on DCA’s runway – a frightening and visible demonstration that DCA is at capacity. Thankfully, there was no loss of life – this time. But this new analysis from the FAA demonstrates conclusively once and for all that passengers simply cannot afford for Congress to further meddle in airport operations by jamming more flights onto DCA’s already-overburdened runway. Our colleagues should listen to the FAA and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and heed the warning light of last week’s near collision. There is no reason to compromise the safety and timeliness of 25 million passengers for the benefit of a few members of Congress who want more flights into DCA,” the senators said in a statement. 

DCA averages 819 overall daily commercial takeoffs and landings on a singular main runway. Designed to accommodate 15 million passengers annually, in 2023, DCA saw 25.5 million aircraft passengers come through its doors. In 2022, the airport had the third-worst cancellation rate among the nation’s busiest airports.

The new FAA data underscores the urgent need to reject any changes to slot and perimeter rules, which govern the number and distance of flights that can safely operate out of DCA. In February 2024, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved changes to the current slot and perimeter rules to increase the number of flights in and out of DCA as part of the Senate version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act.

The senators have repeatedly opposed changes to the slot and perimeter rules. In March 2024, they sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee opposing any changes to the rules in the FAA reauthorization. They penned an op-ed in June 2023 urging their colleagues to oppose changes to the rules.

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.