Friday, July 14, 2017
Texas lawmaker loses bid to change flight rules at Reagan National Airport
By Lori Aratani
The Washington (DC) Post
Reagan National Airport on April 20, 2011.
A Texas lawmaker has lost his bid to bag a prize that has long eluded some of his constituents in San Antonio: nonstop service between their airport and Reagan National.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), whose district includes parts of San Antonio, tried to accomplish this by attaching an amendment to a Defense Department funding bill to create the flight.
Suffice it to say, his congressional colleagues from Maryland, Virginia and the District were not pleased. The delegation has long battled with colleagues seeking special exceptions to operations at National. Usually, such efforts are attached to transportation funding bills. People familiar with the legislative process said this was the first time a defense funding bill was used as a vehicle for such a move.
In a letter to leaders of the House Rules Committee, which had the authority to green light the amendment, members including Virginia’s Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), Sens. Mark R. Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D), and Maryland’s Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) blasted the move as an “end run” around traditional rules. They implored the committee to reject his attempt.
During hearings Wednesday night, the House Rules Committee did just that.
“I am pleased that the Rules Committee heeded our arguments that Rep. Cuellar’s amendment was not appropriate, especially with regard to inclusion in the NDAA,” Comstock said in a written statement. “Our Northern Virginia economy must have a thriving Dulles Airport in order for the entire region to grow. Adding more flights to Reagan National, which is already running over capacity, would have further disrupted the delicate balance between the two airports.”
It’s no secret that lawmakers prefer using National rather than Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports. Both are roughly 30 miles from Capitol Hill, while National is a mere five miles away.
National and its sister airport, Dulles, are unique in that they are the only commercial airports in the United States owned by the government. Although Congress doesn’t manage its day-to-day operations — that’s left to an entity known as the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — members can still step in and make changes.
Local lawmakers saw Cuellar’s amendment as an attempt to get around the “perimeter rule” at National. Under that rule, flights at National cannot travel farther than 1,250 miles from the airport. However, over the years, Congress has carved out certain special “beyond perimeter” exceptions. That’s why travelers can catch flights to exception cities, including Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Austin. The airlines that have those exemptions, however, do not offer nonstop service to San Antonio from National though there are non-stop flights from Dulles.
D.C.-area lawmakers have several reasons for fighting to maintain the status quo at National. Many say allowing more long-distance flights out of National has hurt Dulles. Local lawmakers also have been inundated with complaints from constituents about airport noise.