ICYMI: New $6 Billion Capital Investment At Dulles International Airport Helps Meet Demand & Illustrates Contradictory Argument Against Modernizing 1960s-Era DCA Perimeter Rule

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Observes Dulles’ Growth Now Exceeds DCA

Washington, D.C. – The Capital Access Alliance (CAA), a coalition of transportation and business leaders from Virginia and around the country seeking to make air travel to and from Washington, D.C. more accessible and affordable, highlighted a recent report by FFXNow, a local publication covering Fairfax County, Virginia, on plans to begin a $580 million expansion at Dulles International Airport (IAD) that would add 400,000 square feet on top of the existing C and D concourses. As AeroExplorer.com outlined in a follow up report, this is reportedly part of an “expansive new $6 billion lease and use agreement primarily driven by United Airlines’ trademark fleet renewal and expansion scheme, United Next.”

Notably, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) partnered with United Airlines earlier this year to launch a lobbying coalition aimed at blocking the authorization of new domestic flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) despite growing demand and the Washington region having some of the highest ticket prices in the country. DCA is the only airport in the country subject to a federal perimeter rule that was put in place in 1966 and artificially limits the number of long-distance flights at DCA, which in turn, limits competition and choices for air travelers. Dulles was also recently named the “most expensive” airport in the country for domestic travel.   

The FFXNow report quotes MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter observing that air travel at Dulles is now growing at a faster pace than DCA because of a resurgence of international travel and the expansion of the Metro’s Silver Line, which goes straight to the airport. Dulles is serving more passengers from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe than it was before the pandemic, and domestic travel has returned to 97 percent of 2019 levels, according to MWAA.

“One of the primary arguments that MWAA and United Airlines have argued as they fight to protect the status quo is that adding more flights at DCA would have a negative impact on Dulles by taking customers away from it – yet today we see MWAA and United Airlines poised to break ground on a massive expansion at Dulles precisely to meet growing demand, particularly for international travel,” said CAA spokesman and Northern Virginia resident Brian Walsh. “It makes it even more puzzling why adding a modest number of domestic flights at DCA, which currently has bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, could in any way hurt IAD, particularly as the surrounding population in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William Counties continues to grow year over year.”    

“It’s clear that for United Airlines and MWAA, opposition to modernizing the perimeter rule has always been about blocking competition. Washington, D.C. has the highest ticket prices in the country because the federal perimeter rule artificially limits choices for air travelers. The fact that demand at Dulles and DCA only continues to grow is just another reason Congress should modernize the outdated perimeter rule and add more flights at DCA. It’s well past time to prioritize American consumers and make air travel to the national capital region more affordable,” Walsh concluded.  

Just two years ago, MWAA also 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 in order to serve a growing number of passengers and ease crowding and congestion. Despite these significant upgrades, MWAA continues to claim that DCA is overcapacity and cannot handle any more flights. Data from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), however, contradicts these claims, showing that DCA does have capacity to add more flights, as there are multiple blocks of time throughout the day where runway capacity exceeds demand.

The news of United Airlines’ expansion at IAD follows new data from Virginia Tourism that showed tourism was a “major contributor” to the local economy in Loudoun County, Virginia, surpassing $4 billion in revenue in 2022 – a 32 percent increase from the previous year. The population of Loudoun County and neighboring areas in Northern Virginia has skyrocketed over the last two decades. Thirty-five thousand people lived in Loudoun County when IAD opened in 1962. Today, more than 453,000 residents live in Loudoun County, and more than one million people live in neighboring Fairfax County – underscoring how both airports have a growing customer base to serve. Unfortunately, DCA remains the only airport in the country subject to a federal perimeter rule that limits access and choices for air travelers.

survey earlier this year found that the majority of voters in the Commonwealth 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.