Reagan National May Get More West Coast Flights

Compromise would increase West Coast flights to D.C.

Thursday, Feb 17, 2011  |  Updated 4:30 PM EDT
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Reagan National May Get More West Coast Flights

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ARLINGTON, VA - FEBRUARY 08: A U.S. Airways aircraft takes off from Reagan National Airport February 8, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The airport was partially opened to accommodate travelers after one of the biggest snowstorms in the history has hit the area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Like flying to the West Coast from Reagan National Airport more than from Dulles International? You may be in luck.

An aviation bill compromise approved Thursday by the Senate would allow up to 16 additional daily round-trip flights between Reagan National and Western states. Five daily flights would be added at Reagan National and, if the bill passes, the other flights would be added if airlines give up the same number of current flights to other destinations inside the current 1,250-mile "perimeter" around Reagan National imposed decades ago to foster the growth of Dulles.

Western senators have long complained that the perimeter rule prevents all but a few direct flights from the West Coast to the airport closest to the nation's capital. But Virginia and Maryland senators have opposed the expansion of Western flights out of concern that it would draw lucrative air traffic away from the larger Dulles, located further away from Washington, and from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland.

A lot of local politicians seem to be against adding more West Coast flights at Reagan National to protect their constituents in Virginia and Maryland, according to the Washington Examiner:

Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, both Virginia Democrats, and Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrats, sent a letter last spring warning Rockefeller and others negotiating the FAA bill that they do not want Congress altering the perimeter rule at Reagan, mainly because it would economically threaten Washington Dulles International Airport 26 miles to the west and Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, which is 33 miles to the north.

For more than three years, the issue has been a roadblock to passage of an aviation bill to renew Federal Aviation Administration programs, including moving the nation's air traffic control system from one based on World War II-era radar to one based on GPS technology. Authority for FAA programs expired on Sept. 30, 2007. They have been limping along since then through a series of 17 short-term extensions.

The issue of flights at Reagan National has divided the Senate along regional lines. Some Western state senators were pushing for as many as 75 daily additional flights beyond the perimeter. Virginia and Maryland senators initially drew the line at 10 flights. Some East Coast senators wanted to prevent airlines already serving the airport from giving up flights to smaller
cities inside the perimeter like Syracuse, N.Y., or Portland, Maine, in exchange for more lucrative West Coast flights.

The issues also pitted two air carriers -- United Airlines, a major carrier at Dulles, and US Airways, the largest carrier at Reagan -- and their supporters against each other.

As recently as late Wednesday night it appeared as if the issue would once again block passage of a bill, said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. But senators were able to work out differences during intense negotiations the following morning, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he hopes to pass the aviation bill Thursday night. A House version of the bill would allow only 10 new flights beyond the perimeter.

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