Facing opposition from some airlines and Democratic senators, Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah introduced an amendment in front of the House Committee on Rules Monday that would increase the number of incoming and outgoing flights to the Washington, D.C., airport.

“It adds an additional seven round-trip flights from Ronald Reagan National Airport,” Owens, a Republican who represents Utah’s 4th Congressional District, said in his remarks on the House floor. “That equates to one route for each airline currently operating out of DCA. Not 28 routes, as was originally requested. Not 14, which was a reasonable compromise, but seven, one route for each carrier.”

“What is the result of each carrier having one route? It mitigates the high cost millions of Americans must budget to visit our national capital,” he said.

Why are there restrictions on flights from Ronald Reagan National Airport?

This amendment — added to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill — seeks to increase supply and competition, and lower ticket prices, Owens said.

Owens said in his remarks the proposed 2% increase in air traffic at the airport poses no threat to existing services and flight routes. He also cited a study that says the airport can handle 90 additional flights, though the amendment only proposes seven more.

Ronald Reagan National Airport falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government and enforces a “perimeter rule,” established in the late 1960s, which limits nonstop flights originating more than 1,250 miles from the airport.

“A nearly 60-year-old, federally-imposed perimeter rule has made Washington Reagan one of the most expensive airports in the country. It’s also the only airport in our nation that has been sheltered from the benefits of the free market by D.C. legislators,” Owens said. “This bipartisan effort will begin to modernize the arbitrary, protectionist federal policies put in place for the economic protection of one airport and one airline.”

Apart from serving locals and tourists, lawmakers have a vested interest in this airport that sits four miles away from Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Dulles International Airport, roughly 45 minutes away from the Hill, handles most of the long-haul domestic and international flights.

Delta and Southwest Airlines said they would support Owens’ amendment to add seven more round-trip flights a day from the airport, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, United Airlines, which has a dominant hold over long-haul flights from the neighboring Dulles Airport, said that these additional flights would “increase delays and cancellations.”

Politico noted that American Airlines also has a large presence at Dulles Airport and aligns with United on the issue.

The amendment faces opposition in Senate

Owens held a press conference Tuesday, and he was joined by other supporters of the amendment, including Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas.

Roy said he represents San Antonio, the seventh-largest city in the country and home to the largest joint base as well as numerous other military installations, “and it does not have a direct flight to Reagan National.”

“That’s ridiculous and that is a product of an old rule that was arbitrary.”

The House is scheduled to vote on its version of the FAA reauthorization bill this week. Roy indicated that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, will help shepherd the bill through the upper chamber.

But there will be resistance ahead. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has threatened to oppose the reauthorization of the FAA if it includes additional long-distance flights at the airport. He is joined by other Democratic senators from Virginia and Maryland.

“We need an FAA reauthorization bill,” Warner said, adding that if the legislation causes disturbance to the balance between other airports in the area, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that bill does not become the law.”

View Comments

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President Jack Potter said that the proposal would add more stress to an already “challenged airport.”

“It’s the busiest runway in America and what’s being proposed is additional flights that would bring 3 to 4 million more passengers. We do not have the capacity to handle this,” Potter said, per Politico.

But, Owens said during the press conference, “Every American should have the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and witness their government in action.”

“The key, though, is once the competition gets in there, it should impact an entire country, and people who may be able to come, for instance, to Salt Lake City.”

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.