flight over hanson park

An airplane departing from Dulles International Airport flies over power lines at Hal and Berni Hanson Regional Park.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and local lawmakers, businesses and transportation advocates are resisting a push from interests across the country seeking to further weaken the rule designating Dulles International Airport as the choice for long-haul flights.

MWAA’s two airports, Reagan National and Dulles International, since 1966 have been governed by the perimeter rule, which restricts flights from Reagan to within 1,250 miles. That limits flights out of Reagan to destinations in area that covers all of the East Coast and as far west as Kansas, and reserves long-haul and international flights for Dulles Airport.

“Going way back, people in transportation understood that DCA [Reagan National] would never be able to handle the growth in this region,” MWAA Noise Office Manager Mike Jeck said. “This goes back to the ‘50s. Fast forward to 1962, Dulles opened as the vehicle for providing jet transportation service to the region. When the airports authority was created, Congress kind of mandated that we work both these airports as a system.”

Over time, Congress has carved out exceptions to the rule, typically at the request of lawmakers from states outside the perimeter, making their drive from the capitol to the airport shorter. The first exemption was made for Arizona, at the request of the late Sen. John McCain. Today, there are 20 round trips a day from Reagan outside the perimeter.

As Congress takes up its regular Federal Aviation Administration bill, some lawmakers and business groups are again pushing to let Dulles’s sister airport, Reagan National, take over more of the region’s long-haul flights. Airports Authority officials warn that proposal threatens business and service at both airports.

While Dulles has four runways and room to add a fifth, Reagan with its one runway and limited flight patterns is at capacity, MWAA Vice President for Communications and Government Affairs David Mould said.

“DCA particularly during the daytime hours is at capacity, so if you have 20-some additional flights to the West Coast or wherever, unless they’re going to fly at 2 o’clock in the morning—which is not good for any of the metrics that we look at, particularly noise—some other flights are going to have to go away to make room for them,” Mould said.

That would mean eating into Dulles Airport business, driving the price per passenger up there—a spiral Dulles struggled to escape before—and cutting into service within the perimeter overall, as shorter flights are cut to make room at Reagan to make space for pricier, longer ones.

“There are a lot of cities inside the perimeter, state capitals in fact, that would not be as profitable for these airlines,” Mould said. “If they can go to Los Angeles or Akron, which one do you think they’re going to pick?”

This time, the push for more perimeter rule exemptions is backed by a major airline seeking to create those new exemptions mostly for itself.

The group lobbying for the exemptions, the Capital Access Alliance, is led by Delta Air Lines and is pushing for more exemptions to the perimeter rule. The new legislation as proposed would more than double the number of daily perimeter rule exemptions, with 20 of the 28 new round trips reserved for Delta.

The alliance argues the perimeter rule blocks access to the national capital region. It backs legislation from Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA-4) and Utah Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT-4). Both represent states with Delta hubs—Georgia’s Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Utah’s Salt Lake City International Airport.

Mould said the airports authority has support from the Virginia and Maryland congressional delegations; the major air carriers at Dulles and Reagan—United Airlines and American Airlines; and “many other people who understand the economic impact of knocking this two-airport system out of balance once again, all for the convenience of some people because they don’t want to stay in the car for the extra 15-20 minutes to get to Dulles.”

“All this economic and business disruption is a high price to pay for a few people’s convenience,” Mould said.

On Thursday, they were joined by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, a government agency comprised of representatives from 13 local governments and providing coordination among them. The commission unanimously adopted a resolution opposing more perimeter rule exemptions.

The resolution cites a study that the airport authority contributes $14.4 billion to the region’s gross domestic product and generates $1.1 billion in state and local taxes, and that in 2017 the airport authority spent $767.9 million of its $950.6 million in expenses at regional businesses.

“When flights shift away from Dulles, it raises costs for Dulles Airport's airlines and passengers and upsets the operational and financial balance of the airport system, eroding the airports' contribution to the regional economy,” the resolution warns.

Meanwhile, a growing number of business organizations from outside the region have joined the push for more exemptions, including the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Salt Lake Chamber, Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce. One local group, the Northern Virginia Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce, has also joined the group.

“We’re proud to have a diverse and growing number of organizations from around the country supporting this critical effort as we encourage Congress to modernize the DCA perimeter rule to provide more affordable access to our nation’s capital,” alliance spokesperson Brian Walsh stated in a press release.

“The lack of accessible air travel to Washington, D.C. significantly harms the local economy and Northern Virginia businesses that depend on tourism and business travel. Additionally, it makes traveling to the western part of the country difficult for Virginia business leaders, their employees, and their families,” Northern Virginia Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Susana Marino stated.

Renss Greene is the deputy editor of Loudoun Now. He primarily covers Loudoun County government.

(2) comments


Do NOT change the parameters! It is political as these guys want shorter trips to get to planes for their junkets! DCA can only handle what they have, do you want to see a plane in the Potomac? Years and years ago Truman almost went in! These behemoths can't stop on a dime not to mention the actual pollution and noise pollution over our Nation's capitol. Why do you think the buildings aren't really white anymore. Dulles is so much better equipped, and I can remember when everyone thought it was the dumbest move ever to build it. Sully Rd was a drag strip because no one used it. I remember the day the Concorde came over our house to land at Dulles. Why do politicians have to always stick their noses in when experts disagree with them? Why do we have experts making the decisions. DUH!!


So your logic is because planes almost crashed at National (some have flying in/out of Dulles), and because they make noise pollution and because they make air pollution, therefore we should move more low flying planes over Loudoun County? Also, what "behemoths" are being proposed to fly these longer flights you are opposed to? Name one please.

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