Congress Extends FAA Authority with No New Perimeter Exemptions

Congress voted to extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority until September 2017 Wednesday, June 11, just days ahead of its expiration on July 15. Important for Loudoun, the legislation includes no new perimeter rule exemptions for Reagan National Airport.

To keep the two airports in the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority from competing with each other, Reagan National operates under a perimeter rule, which limits the distance of direct service from the Arlington airport. Cross-country and international flights are intended to fly from Dulles, which has more space both on the airport property and around it to accommodate heavy air traffic.

But in the past, Congress has authorized exemptions for direct flights from Reagan to Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle, and Portland, as well as increased the number of daily flights allowed from Reagan. This has caused airlines at Reagan to compete with Dulles for service to those cities.

Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10), Virginia’s only representative on the House Transportation Committee, said preventing perimeter rule exemptions has been a top priority of hers since the start.

“I’m pleased to beat back the attempts that were made to alter the perimeter rules that were made earlier this year,” Comstock said. She thanked local governments and economic development offices for their work on the perimeter rule, and said she has had a relationship with MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter since her General Assembly days.

“We’re all working on solutions on how to make Dulles more vibrant, expanding it, and really getting it back to being the economic engine that it needs to be for the area,” Comstock said.

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) called the lack of new exemptions a win.

“Maintaining the existing perimeter rules protects the balanced business plan which governs the flow of passengers and flight traffic at each of the three major airports serving our region,” Warner said in a prepared statement. “This careful balance also has allowed a thriving economy to grow around the international gateway that Dulles Airport provides. During Senate debate over the FAA bill, we were able to successfully fight back against last-minute efforts to add slots for long-haul flights out of Reagan National, which would have seriously undermined this balance.”

MWAA spokesman Rob Yingling said the authority “appreciates the significant role of its federal partners in maintaining limits on growth at Reagan National Airport to ensure the long-term viability of Reagan National and Dulles International Airports.”

The bill is a 14-month extension of the FAA’s previous authorization. A long-term reauthorization bill has been stalled by controversy in Congress over sweeping changes to the FAA it contains, including giving air traffic control responsibilities to a nonprofit corporation and airline consumer protections. The extension bill does include new provisions for airport security and unmanned drones, as well as a requirement that airlines refund baggage fees when luggage is lost or unreasonably delayed.

The bill will now go to the president to be signed into law.

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