Senators hammer Washington airports
Members of the Senate Commerce Committee weren't happy with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority on Thursday, as a years-delayed federal aviation funding bill appeared to face long odds for passage this year.
At issue is the proposed expansion of the number of long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport, which because of its size and proximity to neighboring Arlington communities limits the number of incoming and outgoing trips.
A group of federal lawmakers, including Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), has pushed for the conversion and creation of 21 long-haul trips out of National, in order to increase competition among airlines at the pricey airport and meet demand for passengers who want to fly there instead of Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.
The airports authority, which oversees operations of National and Dulles airports, is resisting efforts to turn National into a larger airline hub, saying it lacks the parking, security and baggage infrastructure needed to accommodate additional passengers and that Dulles should be positioned as the region's airport for long flights (especially considering Metro's Silver Line extension, which is being managed by the airports, is set to be finished in December 2016).
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of Commerce's Subcommittee on Aviation Operatons, Safety and Security, was especially critical of the airports authority, making a thinly-veiled threat at the end of the two-hour-long afternoon hearing that MWAA might need to be "transformed."
Dorgan and Rockefeller have pushed to ease the airport's perimeter rule, which bans most flights to destinations more than 1,250 miles from National. The idea, the senators say, is to increase the amount of nonstop air travel from National to the growing West Coast, specifically Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and other distant cities.
"You act like time stands still," Dorgan told airport officials. "Time doesn't stand still, it marches on...You have to change along with it and, the fact is the West is growing."
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and 10 other lawmakers have beaten back Dorgan and Rockefeller's efforts, arguing that any change to the current slot structure at National could adversely impact the finances of the region's other two airports.
Lynn Hampton, the airport authority's president and chief executive, said the switch could result in 700,000 fewer passengers at Dulles and 500,000 fewer travelers at Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport.
The federal aviation funding bill has been stalled since 2007, resulting in more than a dozen short-term extensions.
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