U.S. Senate Hearing Calls Into Question Whether MWAA is Focused on Helping Consumers or Protecting United Airlines’ Bottom Line
Ranking Republican on U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation Reiterates Support for Modernizing Outdated DCA Perimeter Rule
Washington, D.C. – At a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing today on Capitol Hill, the Ranking Republican, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), questioned why the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has partnered with United Airlines to lobby against modernizing the 1960s federal perimeter rule that restricts air travel at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and in doing so, is fighting to preserve a system that has led the Washington region to have some of the highest airline ticket prices in the country.
“[I]t is not MWAA’s job to be operating as the corporate lobbyists for United Airlines,” Senator Cruz said at today’s hearing. “I understand why an airline might want to make millions more in profits from charging higher rates and higher ticket prices. But by lobbying against more competition, MWAA is lobbying for the residents of D.C. and Virginia and Maryland to pay significantly higher prices on tickets, which are already some of the most expensive in the country.”
Cruz further noted, “[W]hile Congress is actively debating changes to federal rules that would allow DCA to offer customers more and less expensive flights and better compete with Dulles, MWAA is actively lobbying against those changes… MWAA board meeting minutes show that MWAA is relying on false claims to support its political goals like increasing flights and competition will increase prices. Any high school economics student knows that argument is ridiculous.”
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, applauded Senator Cruz for his efforts to protect air travelers and encouraged all Members of Congress to question why a quasi-government agency like MWAA has partnered with one airline to lobby against legislation that would lower ticket prices for air travelers.
“MWAA is more concerned about protecting one big airline’s bottom line than helping the flying public with lower ticket prices and greater access to our nation’s capital region. And this point was made clear today in Senator Cruz’s remarks,” CAA spokesperson and Northern Virginia resident Brian Walsh said today. “The data shows that authorizing more flights will lead to lower ticket prices, more choices, and greater access for air travelers. It will also create hundreds of new jobs in the DMV region, while adding tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. That is why polling shows most local residents support modernizing the perimeter rule, but it also raises serious question of why the leadership at MWAA has been fighting so hard against it.”
CAA also fact-checked misleading statements at the hearing by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who represents Illinois, where United Airlines is headquartered. Please see below:
CLAIM: “DCA already operates at capacity … adding a slot to DCA would require MWAA to choose between greater delays or lower safety.”
FACTS: This is false, but you don’t need to take our word for it. Here is a sampling of what aviation experts have said:
- Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta: “Federal Aviation Administration data reveals there are multiple blocks of time each day when runway and airspace capacity exceeds demand, so that air-traffic control could safely and efficiently handle more flights … Fundamentally, the only reason to oppose modernizing the perimeter rule is to protect some airlines from competition. That motivation certainly still exists in Washington today, to the detriment of fliers. If the status quo prevails, consumers will continue to pay the price through higher airfares and fewer travel options.”
Retired Certified Professional Air Traffic Controller Todd Jacobson: “As someone who spent his entire career ensuring airplanes could land and take-off safely, I can say with certainty that DCA can handle more capacity.”
- As the study released by CAA earlier this year made clear in specific detail and with substantiating data, adding additional flights at DCA will allow more than 2,000 daily passengers to be connected non-stop to beyond-perimeter markets and save consumers hard-earned dollars by lowering ticket prices through increased supply and competition, as well as create more than 1,000 new jobs and generate as much as $400 million of economic benefit to the Washington, D.C. region.
CLAIM: “One in five flights at DCA are already delayed with an average delay of 67 minutes.”
FACTS: This is an outdated and misleading talking point. In fact, 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).
- 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.
- More passengers could benefit from these on-time rates if Congress approves additional flights. As the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) own data confirms, there are certain periods of time every day when DCA’s runway capacity is greater than demand. In other words, DCA may be busy at certain times, 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.
CLAIM: “A new 14 gate concourse is already in the works at Dulles, and with metros’ new Silver Line, it’s never been more so convenient to get to and from IAD.”
FACTS: We actually agree with this point, and in fact, the completion of metro’s new Silver Line, providing direct access to Dulles for air travelers, highlights why the 1960s-era perimeter rule should be modernized.
- A primary reason Congress implemented the federal perimeter rule regulation in 1966 was because just 35,000 people lived in Loudoun when IAD was opened, and Congress felt it was needed to protect the airport.
- Yet today, Loudoun is home to more than 453,000 residents, while neighboring Fairfax County’s population has surpassed more than one million residents, and Prince William County is home to more than 486,000 residents.
- At the same time, DCA is still the only airport in the country subject to a federal perimeter rule that limits access and choices for air travelers.
A June poll of more than 1,000 Virginia residents found that the majority of Virginia voters support modernizing the outdated perimeter rule, with 76 percent supporting efforts to lower ticket prices. In Northern Virginia specifically, nearly six out of 10 residents favored reforming the rule. Additionally, an online survey by Arlington-based publication ARLnow, showed that more than 50 percent of residents in the Arlington region support adding more DCA flights.
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.