AUSTIN (KXAN) — New momentum from Capital Access Alliance, a national coalition, is advocating for expanded nonstop flights between Washington, D.C., and major metro hubs across the country — including here in Austin.
At issue: In 1966, the Perimeter Rule was implemented at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, initially limiting nonstop service to and from the airport to 650 miles away. In the mid-1980s, Congress expanded the regulation to limit nonstop service to and from Washington, D.C. if the airport was located more than 1,250 miles away.
Due to the regulation, Austin only has one nonstop flight each day that heads directly to Reagan National. As a result, many travelers have had to turn to Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport for nonstop flights, with both airports located further away from the nation’s capital.
But that could change this year. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of its five-year reauthorization bill, and some lawmakers, business entrepreneurs and lobbyists are advocating for Congress to expand nonstop flight access to Reagan National.
“It is the only airport in the country that has a federal perimeter rule that governs how many flights can go out of the airport and, more importantly, where they can go,” said Brian Walsh, spokesperson for Capital Access Alliance.
Here in Texas, some state lawmakers have echoed their support for the measure. Rep. Chip Roy spearheaded a bipartisan group of seven Texas House members to support a legislative solution that would authorize a nonstop flight from San Antonio to Reagan National. Currently, San Antonio International Airport has no nonstop flights to Reagan.
From a policymaking standpoint, Walsh said better connectivity between Austin and Washington, D.C., would improve lawmakers’ abilities to travel from their D.C. job to their constituents. But from an economic lens, he said Central Texas’ population and business growth naturally caters to stronger access to the nation’s capital.
“So many school groups and businesses and chambers of commerce go to Washington, D.C. every year,” he said. “They should have the same access to our nation’s capital as any other state. Western states have really been hamstrung by this perimeter rule because it limits their access to Washington, D.C.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Austin Chamber and Opportunity Austin noted expanded airfare could help enhance Central Texas’ regional economy.
“The Austin Chamber of Commerce and Opportunity Austin consistently advocate for more air service both domestically and internationally,” the spokesperson said. “We currently have service to Reagan National, and more frequent options would benefit residents and businesses. We continue to work with AUS, airlines, businesses, and local stakeholders to identify new air service opportunities that would further strengthen our regional economy.“
But some politicians are not in favor of the proposal. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), representing northern Virginia suburbs, shared in a statement concerns he had about worsening aircraft noise, congestion and delays should the perimeter rule be repealed.
“Killing DCA’s perimeter slot rule would seriously worsen aircraft noise in the National Capital region, a particularly unfortunate development so soon after the actions we announced with the FAA and regional leaders earlier this week to reduce helicopter noise,” Beyer said, in part, in a statement. “It would also increase congestion and delays and cut service to airports in other cities with smaller markets. And with the opening of expanded service to Dulles on Metro’s Silver Line, such a change makes even less sense than it did when Congress previously rejected this idea.”
Beyer also added in his statement that Reagan National was never intended to be a “long-haul airport,” citing its smaller geographic footprint compared to airports like Dulles.
The existing FAA authorization is set to expire this fall, with the possibility of a temporary extension available. Walsh said he anticipates this discussion culminating sometime late this year as part of the reauthorization process.
Through a study conducted by Boston Consulting Group, Capital Access Alliance is advocating for an additional 20 to 25 flights at Reagan National to help expand or offer first-time nonstop flight services in booming metro areas.
“More people are traveling than ever, and our data shows that there’s a tremendous demand from cities like Austin to have more direct access to our nation’s capital,” he said.