Push to add new long-haul flights at Reagan National shifts to Senate

By: Samantha-Jo Roth

Washington Examiner, June 14, 2023

Support on Capitol Hill is growing to increase the number of long-distance flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) are teaming up to introduce a bill that would permit more airlines to offer more routes where currently federal rules allow only a handful of flights to operate beyond a 1,250-mile perimeter.

The bill in the Senate is similar to one Reps. Burgess Owens (R-UT) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) introduced earlier this month that would allow airlines to offer more long-distance service out of Reagan and 28 more flights daily.

At issue is the perimeter rule, which limits the number of flights that travel more than 1,250 from DCA. Both Reagan and Dulles International Airport are owned by the federal government, which means Congress can decide how they operate. Over the years, lawmakers have carved out exemptions to allow a small number of flights at the airport that are beyond the 1,250-mile limit.

Lummis argues a change is needed to better serve her constituents in Wyoming, who she said are the “most underserved in the continental United States.”

“Our nation’s capital should be easily accessible for all Americans, and it’s a shame that the barriers to access the city are often too much for people in Wyoming and out west to overcome,” Lummis said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner. “The DCA Act is commonsense legislation that will create competition, bringing down prices and accessibility for people to visit Washington, D.C.”

The legislation comes as lawmakers are currently tackling legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and aviation safety and infrastructure programs for the next five years. There are expected to be looming fights on everything from the modernization of the FAA to certifying new aircraft. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the ranking member of the Commerce Committee, also threw his support behind the new legislation to extend the perimeter rule.

“Congress doesn’t micromanage flights between Newark and LaGuardia, O’Hare and Midway, or Dallas and Love Field, and it shouldn’t do so between DCA and Dulles,” a spokesman for the Texas senator said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner. “As lawmakers continue work on the FAA reauthorization bill, providing more affordable flight options into and out of Washington will be a priority for Sen. Cruz and many Republican and Democrat members of this committee — all to the benefit of consumers who want a more convenient experience, less travel time, and lower costs.”

Capital Access Alliance, a coalition of business groups and Delta Airlines are working to expand the number of long-haul domestic flights to DCA, applauded the new legislation.

“We applaud Sens. Warnock and Lummis for leading the effort in the U.S. Senate to modernize the outdated perimeter rule and improve access to the nation’s capital region,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for CAA. “This is pro-consumer legislation aimed at making air travel more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans around the country.”

As the House marked up the FAA reauthorization bill on Tuesday, a group of 10 members of the House, led by Owens and Johnson, led a press conference in front of the Capitol to urge changes to the rule. Flanked by business leaders and several representatives from Delta Air Lines, members spoke about their push to modernize the DCA perimeter rule.

“There are limited flights that come here from the west coast that makes it challenging for people that want to connect,” said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-CA). “Just this week, I understand that even the cost of getting a rental car at Dulles was higher than getting a rental car at DCA.”

Extending the flight perimeter has been something lawmakers have done in the past. In 1981, Congress extended the flight perimeter to 1,000 miles from the original 650 miles. In 1986, it was extended to the current 1,250 miles. Lawmakers have also made exemptions for a small number of flights to cities such as Austin, Texas, Seattle, Denver, and Phoenix.

However, there’s also a strong lobbying fight to prevent the rule change after United Airlines and groups supporting Dulles launched a campaign that argues expanding long-haul domestic flights to Reagan will “increase traffic, noise, congestion, and delays.”

Read the full article from the Washington Examiner here.