Our Mission Is About Fair Access, Not Airlines Or Politicians

By Rolando Pablos, CAA Board Member

Rolando Pablos served as the 111th Texas Secretary of State from 2017 to 2018. He is currently a 2023 board officer for the Texas Association of Business and a board member for the Capital Access Alliance.

As we move toward Congress’ deadline to pass the mandatory reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the end of September, the rhetoric surrounding the effort to expand flight access to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is intensifying.

Unfortunately, those who oppose more direct flight options for travelers have continuously mischaracterized the long-overdue reforms on the table by falsely suggesting that the impetus is to make travel more convenient for Members of Congress, or that it caters directly to the interests of a specific airline. Not only are these criticisms inaccurate, but they ignore the inherent anti-competitive nature of the decades-old federal perimeter rule, which has resulted in Washington, D.C., having some of the highest ticket prices in the country.

As a board member of the Capital Access Alliance (CAA), which has been leading the charge to reform this outdated protectionist measure, my motivation for supporting this effort, along with that of the more than 70 business and community organizations from around the country, is to give much-needed relief to Americans near and far who travel to and from our nation’s capital every year. DCA is the only airport in the country subject to a federal perimeter restriction, which ultimately harms countless members of our military community, families, businesses, and students seeking efficient and affordable access to Washington, D.C.

This antiquated government policy impacts South, Central and West Texas cities, including El Paso and San Antonio, where I currently reside. The Western U.S. must pay bafflingly high-ticket prices or endure unreasonably long layovers just to reach our nation’s capital. In fact, less than five percent of flights to and from DCA directly connect to markets beyond the artificial, government-imposed perimeter.

The diverse group of business and transportation leaders who have joined this effort are prioritizing consumers, not politics. This proposal should garner support from all airlines and everyone who wants to see more Americans gain more affordable access to the wealth of knowledge and opportunity in the nation’s capital.

As for the dubious claims that DCA is already overburdened, the FAA’s own data demonstrates that the airport can easily add flights during slower operating times. A modest increase in flight slots certainly would not negatively impact the existing air service at DCA, but would instead increase competition and improve access between DCA and cities where the availability of direct flights has yet to catch up with ever-increasing demand.

More choices will lower ticket prices and provide more accessible and efficient travel to our nation’s capital. The proposal to expand direct flight access to DCA being considered in the Senate’s version of the FAA reauthorization package is purely additive and would not detract from other regions’ access.

Expanding flight access to DCA is not about politicians or one particular airline, it’s about fairness, competition and consumers. It is time for Members of Congress to modernize this protectionist policy and ease the ‘turf war’ over air travel routes to everyone’s capital city and help deliver new opportunities for Americans to engage in civic participation in Washington.