A proposal to add long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport has officially failed, to the relief of area representatives who feared it would undermine Dulles International Airport.
The House of Representatives rejected the proposal — which was included in a package of changes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s policies that passed overall — by a 229-205 vote on Wednesday (July 19).
Pitched by Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), the proposal, which would have increased the number of flights that travel beyond 1,250 miles from National Airport, attracted significant pushback from local and regional officials.
In late May, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said the move would increase flight delays and have a detrimental impact on the local economy, arguing that the Arlington airport lacks the capacity of Dulles Airport just over the Loudoun County border.
Rep. Don Beyer (D) called the defeat of the proposal a win for the region.
“This strong bipartisan vote of opposition should make it clear, as the Senate takes up their own FAA authorization, that proposals to weaken DCA’s slot and perimeter rules do not have majority support in the Congress,” Beyer wrote in a statement.
Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeff McKay lauded the county’s congressional delegation for defeating the proposal.
“It’s clear that this would have been an intrusive and unwelcome addition to DCA and appreciate the bipartisan approach to supporting residents of Fairfax County,” McKay said.
The Board of Supervisors had argued that the proposed changes would disrupt the balance between the region’s two major airports.
Sen. Mark Warner said he was happy to see “sanity win” in the House.
“I’ll continue fighting these changes — which would exacerbate delays and ruin folks’ travel plans — as we consider this legislation in the Senate soon, too,” Warner tweeted.
Glad to see sanity win in the House last night as they defeated chaotic changes to slot rules at DCA! I’ll continue fighting these changes – which would exacerbate delays and ruin folks’ travel plans – as we consider this legislation in the Senate soon, too.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) July 20, 2023
Issues with a communications system in Warrenton resulted in a temporary suspension of most flights coming into the D.C. area, including at Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a “ground stop” shortly after 6 p.m., pausing departures to the D.C. area so that repairs could be made to a communications system at the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Warrenton.
The Potomac TRACON facility controls air space for Dulles, National and several other key airports in the region.
“The facility has switched to a backup system,” the FAA said at 6:27 p.m., noting that departures from the D.C. area and incoming flights from New York were continuing.
By 6:54 p.m., flights from the West Coast, Midwest and Florida had also resumed.
Contrary to initial reports from travelers on Twitter, who said a fire had taken out air traffic control at either Dulles or National Airport, the FAA says there have been no official reports of a fire.
Dulles Airport reported that the ground stop was lifted at 7:07 p.m.
However, departures from Dulles have been delayed by 90 minutes on average, a time frame that may increase, according to the FAA’s latest air systems status update at 6:56 p.m.
Flights from New York bound for D.C. continue, and flights departing D.C.-area airports continue.
Continue to monitor https://t.co/smgdqJN3td for the latest.
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) June 25, 2023
The ground stop has been lifted and flights have resumed.
Please check with your airline for flight status. https://t.co/GmPj06MOHN
— Dulles Airport (IAD) (@Dulles_Airport) June 25, 2023
All DC area air traffic control is offline. And before you call bullshit, the flight I'm on was just rerouted states away as a result.
— RJR Capital (@RJRCapital) June 25, 2023
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) June 25, 2023
More local legislators are pushing back against a federal proposal to allow more long-distance flights at National Airport (DCA).
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to oppose the push to increase the number of flights that travel beyond 1,250 miles from the airport in Arlington.
In a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, the board argued that the effort would undermine Dulles International Airport (IAD), resulting in “detrimental” impacts on the local economy.
The board argues that changes would disrupt the balance between the region’s two major airports and compromise the operating environment for air traffic. The letter also says flight paths for arrivals and departures to the south of DCA have caused major noise issues over residential areas in the county following the implementation of a federal Next Generation Air Transportation System, also known as NextGen.
Board Chairman Jeff McKay emphasized that the issue resolves around public safety. He said that many airline pilots that fly out of DCA say that is one of the “most dangerous” airports to fly in and out of because its designed for specifically-sized airports in the landing area.
“This is not just wrong to impose these changes without a lot of public input, it’s not just wrong for parochial reasons, but it’s wrong to do it in the name of public safety as well, and I think that’s one of the things that’s important for us to emphasize,” McKay said.
Proposing to allow 28 more long-distance flights out of DCA, the bill was introduced on May 10 by Reps. Burgess Owens and Hank Johnson, who represent Utah and Georgia, respectively. It has already faced opposition from Virginia’s senators, a community group looking at the airport’s noise issues, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages both DCA and IAD.
Congress is expected to consider the proposal this fall.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said the issue of airport noise is particularly problematic.
“Mason District is not on a direct path of the airplanes for National, but we are getting increasing numbers of complaints about airplane noise and helicopter noise. So, I’m glad that we’re stepping up and doing this,” Gross said.
Storck said he hopes other efforts can be undertaken to tackle airplane noise, especially in his district. He noted that County Executive Bryan Hill is working with Alexandria and Arlington officials to enlist a consultant that will study ways to mitigate noise impacts.
The county says that maintaining existing perimeter and slot rules is necessary in order to spur growth at Dulles, which is supported by the arrival of Metro’s $6 billion Silver Line extension.
“The interconnectedness of Virgnia’s and the mid-Atlantic’s aviation system makes the continued success of both airports vital to both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Washington Metropolitan Region,” the letter states. “As such, we request your support in preventing further efforts to modify the perimeter and slot rules to protect the balance between the capacities of our region’s airports.”
A proposal for more long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport (DCA) is catching the ire of some of Virginia’s Congressional representatives, who say it could undermine efforts to grow Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Proponents led by Capital Access Alliance argue that current restrictions at Reagan National — an airport owned by the federal government — are outdated and hurt the economy. They want to increase the number of flights that travel beyond 1,250 miles from the airport, allowing as many as 25 daily round trips.
According to the Alliance:
Since the late 1960s, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) has been the only airport subject to a federally imposed perimeter rule, which limits the number of flights that are allowed to take-off and land outside a 1,250-mile perimeter. However, the consumer, economic, technological and industry landscape has changed substantially in the last 60 years, and the rule’s original goals no longer apply to today’s air travel ecosystem in the nation’s capital.
The group released a study by Boston Consulting Group that argues more long-distance flights would boost all airlines equally, reduce ticket prices for passengers, and result in millions of dollars in economic growth.
But senators who represent Virginia and Maryland say that the proposal will undermine Dulles, just as more customers may utilize the airport due to the arrival of Metro last year.
In a joint statement issued last Wednesday (April 26), Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine said that past efforts to allow exceptions to the perimeter pool have “produced significant stress” on the airport.
“Those changes have also prevented Dulles, whose size allows for larger planes to land and take off, from realizing its full potential as the primary long-haul flight destination for the Washington metropolitan area,” the statement reads.
According to the letter, Reagan National is now seeing more travelers than Dulles, even though the international airport was designed for more capacity.
For over a decade, traffic at DCA has risen sharply, while IAD has declined or stagnated in the same measures. In 2010, total annual enplanements at IAD exceeded those at DCA by more than 5 million. At the end of 2019, before COVID-19 upended the national aviation industry, IAD outpaced DCA by less than a million passengers annually. Now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and Americans return to travel, this pattern has worsened. Today, IAD trails DCA by more than 1 million.
The senators go on to argue that loosening the slot and perimeter rules threatened the balance between the airports.
“As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we will strongly oppose any efforts to disrupt or undermine the balance between Dulles and National, an airport one-fourteenth the size of Dulles,” the statement said.
Warner wrote a similar letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation in March.
Congress is expected to take up the FAA’s reauthorization bill this fall.
It’s been a turbulent couple of years for air travel.
For more than a year, face masks have been a required accessory for flyers due to COVID-19. That ended Monday (April 18) when a federal court ruled against the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public transportation.
The country’s major airlines all dropped their mask requirements even before the federal government confirmed it would not enforce the mandate or appeal the judge’s ruling — a decision that has inspired cheers, anger, and perhaps some relief for flight crews after months of hostile confrontations with passengers.
Even those comfortable with flying from a health perspective, however, might be taken aback when they see what tickets will cost them, as many airlines pass higher fuel costs on to customers.
While plummeting demand led to some bargains during the initial months of the pandemic, the average ticket price nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 in the greater D.C. area, and inflation hit 8.5% this month, reaching a level not seen since the 1980s.
Despite those challenges, though, a recent poll by AAA Travel indicates that many people remain eager to travel, with more than 50% of Virginia and D.C. respondents saying they plan to travel more this summer.
How do you feel about flying right now? Does the end of mask requirements make the idea of getting on a plane more or less appealing? Or are the ticket prices more of a sticking point?
Photo via Dulles International Airport/Instagram