FACT CHECK: Ahead of Potential Senate FAA Bill Consideration, United Airlines-Backed Coalition Continues to Mislead on DCA Performance & Capacity

Washington, D.C. – As the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation prepares for a potential markup of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill, which could include authorizing a modest number of new flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), a coalition underwritten by United Airlines is attempting to mislead lawmakers in order to block competition and more choices for Washington, D.C. air travelers.  

Dulles, where United currently controls roughly 70 percent of the gates, was recently named the “most expensive” airport in the country for domestic travel, while Washington, D.C., is now the most expensive air travel market among the country’s top metropolitan regions.

To protect that status quo, United Airlines earlier this year stood up the “Coalition to Protect Regional Airports,” which this week sent out a press release falsely claiming that “traffic jams and long security wait times” “underscore what the experts have repeatedly stated – DCA is at capacity and cannot accommodate any more flights.

Setting aside that Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest weekends for every single airport in the country, in fact, a closer examination of the local news coverage, the record demand for air travel, and the coalition’s misleading claims make the exact opposite case and underscore why a modest number of new flights can and should be authorized at DCA. 

  • According to an NBC4 (Washington) report live from DCA on Thanksgiving eve, for example, the lines at DCA were “moving pretty quickly” with a 15 to 25 minute wait at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints at the height of air travel and the reporter also observed that almost all of the flights were “on time.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise because just two years ago, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) touted DCA’s Project Journey, a $1 billion terminal expansion that was completed in 2021. Project Journey added a new 14-gate concourse and two 50,000-square-foot security checkpoints at the airport to serve a growing number of passengers and ease crowding and congestion.

In addition, recently released federal data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), shows that DCA actually leads the national capital region in on-time performance, with an 82.74 percent on-time departure rate, while Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) ranked fourth and 25th, respectively. 

Yet, MWAA, in partnership with United, continues to falsely claim that DCA is overcapacity and cannot handle any more flights. Data from the FAA, however, also contradicts these claims, showing that DCA does have the capacity to add more flights, as there are multiple blocks of time throughout the day where runway capacity exceeds demand.

As the Capital Access Alliance pointed out in a Thanksgiving-week statement: Air travel in the Washington, D.C. region and throughout the country is surpassing pre-pandemic levels, and we must improve affordable access to and from the national capital region to better serve consumers…. Not only has FAA data confirmed that DCA can safely and effectively handle additional flights, but a recent study found that both DCA and IAD are among the best and most reliable airports in the country for holiday travel. Both finished in the top four for on-time departures, proving that opposition to modernizing the perimeter rule is really about protecting one airline’s grip on the Washington, D.C. market instead of helping consumers.”

A survey earlier this year found that the majority of voters in the Commonwealth also support modernizing the perimeter rule and adding more flights at DCA, including six out of 10 Northern Virginia residents.

About CAA

CAA consists of diverse members from around the country and various industries, including transportation, general business groups, the small business sector, entrepreneurs and job creators, organizations focused on economic development, and leaders in the civic and policy communities.

Learn more about Capital Access Alliance HERE.