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Senate panel adds slots at Reagan National in passing FAA reauthorization

The Senate Commerce Committee agreed to add five additional slots for long-distance flights to Reagan National Airport as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill on Thursday, an issue that has long faced opposition from D.C.-area lawmakers.

Local lawmakers have argued that additional long-distance flights from Reagan National (DCA) would only increase delays at the already busy airport and undermine regional investments into expansion at the nearby Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport (BWI) in Maryland.

“I’m disappointed to see the Commerce Cmte add additional slots at DCA to this year’s FAA reauthorization,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Thursday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Cramming more flights onto the busiest runway in America is a bad idea. We can’t let backroom deal-making by out-of-region senators steamroll the needs of DMV residents.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) also blasted the decision and pledged to oppose it in the House. The House’s version of the FAA reauthorization bill passed last year does not include additional long-distance flight slots.

“The House rejected this on a robust, bipartisan vote and no amount of backroom Senate deals will change the fact that the House strongly opposes adding more traffic and delays at DCA,” Beyer wrote on X.

In June, all four senators representing Maryland and Virginia argued in a Washington Post op-ed that proposed slot expansions “spell disaster for our constituents.”

The Democratic lawmakers argued that Reagan National’s focus on smaller, regional flights works “in tandem” with the long-distance focus of Dulles and BWI.

“This means residents of Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have three airports to get them almost anywhere they might want to go, while travelers and businesses have maximum access to the nation’s capital, whether they’re coming from a big hub such as Los Angeles or from smaller destinations such as Akron, Ohio; Knoxville, Tenn.; Burlington, Vt.; or Greensboro, N.C.,” the senators wrote. “With the current system, travelers win, cities win and local residents win.”

“Messing with this delicate balance is a bad idea,” they continued. “It would cause longer lines and more delays at DCA, more noise for nearby residents — and economic losses along the Dulles corridor in Northern Virginia as well as in the BWI business district.”

An FAA study last May found an increase of 20 daily round-trip flights would increase delays by 25.9 percent, while 25 additional round-trip flights would increase delays by 33.2 percent.

Reagan National has been the 10th-most delayed airport in the National Airspace System since January 2022, the FAA noted, with about 20 percent of departures and 22 percent of arrivals experiencing an average delay of 67 minutes.

Capital Access Alliance, an industry lobbying group that supports the slot expansion, applauded the amendment’s passage on Thursday.

“Consumers are paying some of the highest ticket prices in the nation because the federal perimeter rule has stifled competition in the national capital region for nearly six decades,” spokesperson Brian Walsh said in a statement. “These new flights will give travelers more choices when they fly and help lower costly airfare.”

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