Maryland, Virginia senators blast move to add long-distance flights at Reagan airport

A quartet of senators from the greater Washington area tore into a potential provision that would add a number of long-distance flight slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as part of the upcoming reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) panned the plan released by congressional negotiators early Monday that would add 10 slots at National Airport, or five round-trip flights, arguing the airport is already bursting at the seams.

“We are deeply frustrated that Committee leadership with jurisdiction over the FAA Reauthorization Act — none of whom represent the capital region — have decided to ignore the flashing red warning light of the recent near collision of two aircraft at [National Airport] and jam even more flights onto the busiest runway in America,” the four senators said, pointing to a near miss that occurred at the airport nearly two weeks ago.

“It should go without saying that the safety of the traveling public should be a higher priority than the convenience of a few lawmakers who want direct flights home from their preferred airport,” they said. “We will continue to fight against this ridiculous and dangerous provision.”

The Virginia and Maryland senators have been loudly opposing the potential provision for much of the past year.

National Airport is considered a short-haul airport that largely limits flight distances to 1,250 miles, though there are 11 exceptions to that perimeter. Lawmakers, including many from far-flung parts of the country, have called for more flights into the nation’s capital. Many prefer flying in and out of National Airport, rather than Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, both of which are better suited to handle long-haul flights but are farther from Washington.

Delta Air Lines, based in Atlanta, is a leading proponent of this push, while United Airlines is against it. Dulles is a United hub and would take on the brunt of those flights being siphoned off.

Despite the negotiated deal, the Maryland and Virginia lawmakers are going to the mat to try to scrap the potential new rule. They have cited FAA statistics showing that the addition of five more round-trip flights would add more than 700 minutes of delays at the airport.

“We understand the desire of senators to shorten their commutes home, but this proposal would benefit few while impacting many, first and foremost in safety but also in delays and in reducing the economic competitiveness of smaller destinations within the perimeter,” they wrote in a letter to their colleagues. “The senators representing the region and the people who most use this airport stand uniform against a provision negotiated without us that will guarantee more unacceptable delay and compromise passenger safety.”

The FAA reauthorization push comes ahead of a May 10 deadline, marking the last significant must-pass legislative item on the congressional calendar until September, when lawmakers must fund fiscal 2025.

The bicameral package would keep the pilot’s retirement age steady at 65 instead of raising it to 67, as well as include other items aimed at preventing aircraft collisions and boosting air traffic control staffing.

One item that was scrapped from the package would have allowed members of Congress, judges and Cabinet members to receive security escorts if they are facing credible threats. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was a leading proponent of that provision.

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