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Congresswoman Barbara Comstock

Representing the 10th District of Virginia

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Virginia And DC Delegation Urges Congress To Maintain Current Flight Rules At Reagan National & Dulles Airports

May 5, 2015
Press Release

Washington, DC –  As the 2015 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill comes before Congress, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11), Don Beyer (D-VA-8), and Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) urged the Congress not to exacerbate overburdened operations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by adding more flight traffic.

In their letter, the members point out that when Congress established the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) in 1986, it was charged with operating, promoting and protecting Reagan National and Dulles International together as primary airports serving the metropolitan Washington area, in addition to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

“The result has been three world class airports with coordinated access to the nation and the world that has yielded dramatic investment in the region’s economy by the private sector,” the members wrote. “The multi-billion dollar economy of the metropolitan Washington region is driven in part by its aviation system, as evidenced by the relocation of major corporate headquarters such as SAIC, Hilton Hotels and Volkswagen to locations near our area airports.  We must acknowledge that changes to the flight rules at Reagan National can have profound impacts both on operations at Dulles International and BWI, and on the economies of our home states and the region.”

In order to maintain the balance of the two-airport system – and acknowledging the physical limitations of Reagan National, an airport one-fourteenth the size of Dulles – Congress has since 1986 restricted the number of nonstop flights that can originate out of Reagan National to airports on the west coast. However, in the last three FAA reauthorization bills, Congress has made changes to these rules that have disrupted the balance in this two-airport system by adding additional flights from Reagan to destinations outside the 1,250-mile perimeter.

“Changes in flight activity resulting from legislative loosening of the slot and perimeter rules, combined with airline mergers and commercial transactions, have led to significant congestion and stress on Reagan National’s facilities,” the members wrote. “History has shown that increasing slots to beyond-perimeter destinations outside this process results in poor business decisions, anti-competitive behavior and unfair giveaways to one airline over another. Just as you would not want out-of-state members dictating operations at your home state airports, we will strongly oppose efforts to make changes at airports that serve our communities and constituents.”

In their letter, the members noted that since 2000, domestic passengers at Reagan National have grown by 31% while declining 9% at Dulles. In 2014, nearly the same number of travelers used Dulles as Reagan, even though Dulles is many times larger.  

According to a study commissioned by MWAA, Dulles generates $1.2 billion a year in state and local tax revenue for Virginia, D.C. and Maryland while supporting nearly 250,000 direct or indirect jobs.

Full text of the letter is available below:

May 5, 2015

 

The Honorable John Thune                                        

Chairman                                                                   

Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation                                                                       

United States Senate                                                  

Washington, D.C.  20510                                           

 

The Honorable Bill Nelson                                         

Ranking Member                                                       

Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation                                                                       

United States Senate                                                  

Washington, D.C.  20510                                           

 

The Honorable Bill Shuster

Chairman

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

United States House of Representatives

Washington, D.C.  20515

 

The Honorable Peter A. DeFazio

Ranking Member

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

United States House of Representatives

Washington, D.C.  20515

 

Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members: 

 

As the 2015 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill comes before the Congress, we would like to make clear our strong opposition to any attempts aimed at changing the current High Density (slot) and perimeter rules at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Reagan National and Washington Dulles International Airports are the federal government’s only commercial airports.  When Congress passed the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Compact legislation in 1986 that created the Airports Authority, it charged that entity with the duty of operating and managing the airports as a single system with the two airports having complementary roles.  Acknowledging the physical limitations of Reagan National, Congress mandated the High Density Rule (or “Slot” rule) and “Perimeter” rule.  Dulles International was planned as the growth airport for the region’s aviation needs.  For over two decades, passenger activity at Dulles International grew while the slot rule at Reagan National kept flight activity relatively stable, consistent with the constrained facilities at Reagan National.  In accordance with its Congressional mandate, the Airports Authority made major capital investments at Dulles International from 1989 to 2011 to accommodate this growth as well as anticipated future growth in air travel.  Both Reagan and Dulles Airports flourished under the billions of dollars that the Airports Authority and the federal government invested in the airports and are now financing the extension Metrorail to Dulles Airport and beyond.

The Authority’s work also helped achieve a balance with Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International (BWI) so that the broader interests of the Maryland/DC/Virginia region are well served.  The result has been three world class airports with coordinated access to the nation and the world that has yielded dramatic investment in the region’s economy by the private sector.  The multi-billion dollar economy of the metropolitan Washington region is driven in part by its aviation system, as evidenced by the relocation of major corporate headquarters such as SAIC, Hilton Hotels and Volkswagen to locations near our area airports.  We must acknowledge that changes to the flight rules at Reagan National can have profound impacts both on operations at Dulles International and BWI, and on the economies of our home states and the region.

However, in the last three FAA reauthorization bills, Congress has made changes to these rules that have disrupted the balance in this two-airport system.  After three consecutive years of record growth, Reagan National is forecasted to overtake Dulles International in terms of passenger enplanements in 2015. Changes in flight activity resulting from legislative loosening of the slot and perimeter rules, combined with airline mergers and commercial transactions, have led to significant congestion and stress on Reagan National’s facilities.  As a consequence, airline growth at Dulles International has declined as carriers have shifted flights from Dulles International to Reagan National.  Since 2000, domestic passengers at Reagan National have grown by 31%, while Dulles has declined 9%.  Since 2012, domestic passengers at Reagan National have grown by 5.5%, while Dulles declined by 7.2%.  That decline in domestic traffic at Dulles International is, in part, directly attributable to changes made by Congress to the operational rules at Reagan National.  Any further loosening of the existing slot and perimeter rules will exacerbate the imbalance between the region’s important airport assets.

Changes to existing law should not be made unilaterally by Congress, but rather though the mutual agreement of all parties concerned.  History has shown that increasing slots to beyond-perimeter destinations outside this process results in poor business decisions, anti-competitive behavior and unfair giveaways to one airline over another.  Just as you would not want out-of-state Members dictating operations at your home state airports, we will strongly oppose efforts to make changes at airports that serve our communities and constituents.

Thank you for your leadership in the critical area of aviation policy.  We look forward to working with you to pass an FAA Reauthorization bill this year that leaves intact the current rules governing operations at Reagan National Airport.

Sincerely,