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Regional lawmakers urge Congress to keep Perimeter Rule in place

As Congress readies to work on the 2017 Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization legislation, more than a dozen regional lawmakers are calling on their colleagues to continue limits on cross-country flight traffic out of Reagan National Airport (DCA).

Over the years, Congress has extended the Perimeter Rule around Reagan from 650 miles to 1,250 miles. The rule prohibits direct flights from more than 1,250 miles out of Reagan.

Congress is also in charge of proposing and approving legislation to change the number of flights, or slots, at high-density airports. In 2000 Congress added 24 slot exemptions per day at Reagan Airport; in 2003, it allowed 22 slot exemptions and eight slot exemptions in 2012.

If Congress approves new rules, flights could compete with those at Dulles International Airport as well as Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Fifteen lawmakers, including Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.-10th) and Sens. Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D), sent a letter saying Reagan and Dulles airports were designed by the federal government and operate on its behalf as an “integrated system."

The lawmakers said Congress mandated the slot and perimeter rules “acknowledging the physical limitations and community impacts of aircraft noise at Reagan National.”

“Dulles International was planned as both the growth airport and international gateway for the region’s aviation needs,” the letter stated. “For over three decades, passenger volume at Dulles International grew while the Slot rule at Reagan National kept flight activity relatively stable.”

The lawmakers stressed the need to maintain “operations stability” between the airports including at BWI so that the “broader interests of the region are served.”

Moreover, they criticized the last three FAA re-authorization bills that changed the slot rule and disrupted the balance between the airports.

“After six consecutive years of growth, passenger enplanements at Reagan National overtook Dulles International in 2015 and 2016. Flight activity resulting from legislative loosening of the Slot and Perimeter rules, combined with airline mergers and commercial transactions, have led to significant congestion and stress on Reagan National’s facilities and a decline in commercial domestic passenger volume at Dulles International,” the letter read.

They noted that, since 2000, domestic commercial passenger traffic at Reagan National has grown by 50 percent while passenger traffic at Dulles Airport has declined by 9 percent. The lawmakers contend changes made by Congress to the operational rules at Reagan National played a role in a decline of passenger traffic at Dulles.

The lawmakers warned that impacts of “additional modifications” to existing law could financially destabilize Dulles Airport, as it is still recovering from previous slot and perimeter alterations and other “external economic factors.”

They said investments made by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority from 1990 to 2010 resulted in more than $4 billion in debt. The lawmakers cautioned a decrease in passengers further complicates the repayment of the debt, making Dulles Airport “more expensive and thus less competitive.”

“No member of Congress appreciates another representative meddling with the assets in their state or district,” the letter read. “We, too, strongly oppose any attempts by other Members to dictate operations at these airports for their own personal convenience at great cost to our communities and constituents.”

Congresswoman Comstock said in a statement to the Times-Mirror that she would continue to work with Congress and local officials to maintain a balance between Dulles Airport and Reagan National.

“Dulles Airport is an important economic engine for our region, and I will be working with my colleagues in Congress and with our local officials to strategize and implement policies that keep an appropriate balance between Dulles and Reagan so our region is better served,” Comstock said.

In the coming months, both the House and Senate are expected to consider FAA re-authorization proposals. The current FAA authorization expires at the end of September.

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