Jun 13, 2023 - News

Sen. Warnock joins support for more long-haul flights at Reagan National

Air travelers walking inside National Airport against the backdrop of airplanes

Reagan National Airport is closest to downtown D.C. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) joined the side of Delta Airlines in supporting expanding long-haul flights out of Reagan National Airport.

Driving the news: Warnock and Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday introduced a Senate bill, joining a growing group of bipartisan lawmakers who wants to ease a federal rule limiting long-distance flights out of National, which is mere miles from downtown D.C.

Why it matters: The chance to open up National has spurred heavy lobbying in Congress — and opponents in the D.C. region are ringing alarm bells that the small, delay-prone airport cannot handle more long-haul flights.

What they're saying: "Our nation’s capital should be easily accessible for all Americans, and it’s a shame that the barriers to access the city are often too much for people in Wyoming and out West to overcome," Lummis said in a statement to Axios.

Catch up fast: Delta, along with several business groups and lawmakers from the West, is supporting a coalition called Capital Access Alliance, which commissioned a study in April that called National’s “perimeter rule” an “antiquated” relic that drives up airfares.

  • The proposal, which also has bipartisan support in the House, would add 28 roundtrip flights outside the 1,250 perimeter rule. There are currently 20 roundtrip flights exempted from the rule.
  • Based in Atlanta, Delta has a large presence at National.

The other side: A competing campaign with the support of United Airlines that calls itself the Coalition to Protect America’s Regional Airports denounces the legislation as “a reckless pursuit of more flights.”

  • They cite a recent Federal Aviation Administration memo that says adding 25 more daily roundtrip exemptions to the limit would increase delays by nearly 33%.
  • Many Washington area leaders oppose the changes, arguing National was never intended to be a long-haul airport and that its growth would come at the cost of Dulles International Airport’s viability.

Between the lines: The topic has drawn intense public campaigning.

  • "Tear down this perimeter," Michael Huerta, a former FAA administrator and Delta board member, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday.
  • Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said he supported the current perimeter rule and the "balanced two-airport system."

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