DCA’s On-Time Performance Rates Poke More Holes In Opposition’s False Narrative

By Todd Jacobson

In a July op-ed in The Hill, I wrote that DCA is underutilizing its capacity and that Congress should modernize the perimeter rule by adding more flights. Having spent 30 years in the Federal Aviation Administration and working as a certified air traffic controller, I continue to stand by this opinion, and I’m pleased that former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and former United Airlines Captain Michael Murphy agree. Adding flights at DCA is safe, feasible and will help Americans across the country travel more affordably and efficiently to Washington, D.C.

For months the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and a small group of Members of Congress from the national capital region have been pushing a false narrative about adding flights at Washington Reagan National Airport. Their firm stance is that DCA is over capacity and overburdened, despite evidence to the contrary.

DCA is a busy hub – this is not in dispute. The airport’s convenient location makes it a preferred choice for many travelers going to and from Washington, D.C. But there’s new evidence that shows that DCA is actually performing quite well – undercutting yet another inaccuracy made by the opposition and proving that DCA’s underutilization is doing a disservice to consumers.

  • MWAA claims that DCA is plagued by some of the highest cancellation rates in the nation and will only get worse with the addition of new flights. But new data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) shows that DCA leads all of Washington, D.C. region airports in on-time arrivals and departures, beating Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore International Airport (BWI).
  • In fact, DCA ranked second among the 30 largest airports in the U.S. with an 82.74 percent on-time departure rate and ranked eighth nationally for arrivals with a 78.18 percent on-time rate.

If Congress approves adding flights at DCA to be flown within and beyond the 1,250 mile perimeter, more passengers could enjoy the benefits of these on-time rates. As the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) own data confirms, there are dedicated periods of time each day when DCA’s runway capacity is greater than demand. In other words, DCA may be busy, but it’s not busy around the clock. The proposed new flights would be added during DCA’s downtimes, not when the runway is at its busiest.

Still, the opposition continues to claim that DCA can’t handle any more flights and passengers. MWAA  recently stated that DCA is “small, space-constrained and overcrowded,” yet less than two years ago they were jubilantly celebrating the completion of “Project Journey.” The $1 billion makeover added a new 14-gate concourse, two 50,000-square-foot-security checkpoints and was touted as “transforming the passenger experience.”  The FAA has also implemented dozens of NextGen programs at DCA and the overlying air traffic facilities to help “increase the safety, efficiency, capacity, predictability, and resiliency of American aviation.” So which one is it?

Adding a handful of flights at DCA safely and responsibly in order to meet the demand of today’s market is long overdue.

More competition and more choices will help lower ticket prices and save consumers their hard-earned dollars.

The U.S. Senate’s version of the FAA Reauthorization bill awaits action in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX) have stated on the record that they are working to include a bipartisan proposal that would add a reasonable number of flights at DCA.

America’s air travelers are counting on them to see it through.

Todd Jacobson is a retired certified professional air traffic controller who served multiple airports in his 30-year tenure with the FAA. He served as general manager of the Denver-Salt Lake District and was responsible for 31 FAA Air Traffic Facilities and federal contract towers.