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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.

By Derek Kravitz  | September 16, 2010; 9:30 PM ET
Categories:  Airlines, Airports, Transportation Politics  
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Expand DCA now!

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | September 17, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Yes, please! I'll take metroing to National over driving all the way to Dulles and paying to park anyday.

Posted by: futbolclif | September 17, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Leave it as is. It's working fine. If you don't want to drive to Dulles, take the Flyer.

Posted by: jckdoors | September 17, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, the money went to the Ocean City Hooters Express airport. DCA is not a priority.

Posted by: jiji1 | September 17, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Did any of the Senators address the fact that DCA is a single runway airport (and a short one at that) that would still be limited in the size of transcontinental flights it could service? With that as a backdrop, those transcontinental flights are still going to be priced at a premium compared to IAD and BWI, both because of the restrictions on size/number of flights and because there simply is a value to the convenience of flying out of DCA as opposed to IAD or BWI. I suspect the airlines want the expansion precisely because of the ability to charge a premium, so that kind of shatters the Rockefeller/Dorgan mantra of more competition/lower prices, no?

Posted by: flotsam3 | September 17, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Lest the point of my prior post be lost, it seems to me that Rockefeller/Dorgan are doing the bidding of the airlines, whereas the Airport Authority is looking out for the interests of its two airports and the logistical/safety/noise concerns related to further growth at National. Dorgan is leaving office in a few months, so ignore him. Rockefeller, whom I admire on many fronts, can take his threats and cram them in some empty hole in West Virginia that used to be a mountain.

Posted by: flotsam3 | September 17, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I would love to be able to fly home and save the hour it takes to get to Dulles (in traffic or by the flyer) or transfer in some delay-prone hub. I can get a flight to Atlanta every hour but never a flight to San Diego? It is unfair and stupid.

Posted by: nspring | September 17, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I love the convenience of flying in/out of DCA. I don't care how you get there, IAD and BWI are pains-in-the butt. I say expand DCA-it's our national airport, I'm quite sure IAD and BWI will survive.

Posted by: arlingtonian6 | September 17, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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