May 1, 2023 - News

Austin-area groups push for nonstop flights to DCA

Central Texas lawmakers and business leaders are pushing for more nonstop flights from Texas to Reagan National Airport. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Reagan National Airport has few nonstop flights to Texas and beyond due to federal limits. Now, Delta Air Lines is part of a new coalition lobbying to allow airlines to expand service to the Washington-area airport.

Why it matters: Austin-area lawmakers and business leaders are supporting the effort, which they say is key to connecting the two capitals.

State of play: The flight limit has long led travelers to seek out further afield airports Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International for long-haul flights to and from the area, and changes to the federal limits have been politically controversial, writes Axios D.C.'s Cuneyt Dil.

Context: The "perimeter rule" was first established in 1966 to boost the viability of Dulles and reduce both congestion at the much smaller National and jet noise over dense neighborhoods— the airport is only a few miles from the White House.

  • The limit has been gradually relaxed to allow nonstop service within 1,250 miles — as far west as Kansas.
  • Austin has just one nonstop flight to Reagan on Southwest Airlines.

Driving the news: The new coalition called the Capital Access Alliance includes business groups from California and Texas. It released a study from the Boston Consulting Group which called the National Airport rule "antiquated" and argued it drives up airfare costs.

  • The study calls for 20 to 25 more exemptions to the perimeter. Authors say they believe it can be done without increasing noise pollution.

Zoom in: Business groups, including the Round Rock, San Antonio and Austin chambers of commerce, have expressed their support. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican who represents parts of Austin and San Antonio, has called for more direct flights to the area.

  • "San Antonio — the seventh biggest city in the U.S. — is home to top military installations and a premier cybersecurity community. But federal law prevents the residents of Military City USA from flying nonstop to Reagan Airport," Roy said in a statement.

What they're saying: Former Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, board member of the Capital Access Alliance, said business and community leaders need a more effective way to access the nation's capital.

  • "Congress should improve access for all Texans who wish to make their voices heard in Washington," Pablos said. "Our business community, as well as Texas families, school groups, and other advocacy organizations would benefit tremendously from more direct flights to and from DCA."

The other side: Some D.C.-area lawmakers spoke out about the effort last week, including U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Virginia) who said a change to the federal rule would "seriously worsen aircraft noise."

  • "It would also increase congestion and delays, and cut service to airports in other cities with small markets," Beyer added.

Dig deeper: The impact on Dulles


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