U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

In the 23 years Jim Moran has been in Congress, he’s seen his Northern Virginia district morph into a megalopolis of broad boulevards, bustling developments and skyscrapers. Now he’s fearful that a federal agency wants to put a cap on his burgeoning skyline to help airlines and airports make more money.

The agency — the Federal Aviation Administration — takes a different view. It sees development around the nation’s airports as encroaching — including buildings, microwave towers and wind turbines — on the airspace that jetliners need to land safely. In particular, the FAA worries that an aircraft crippled by an engine failure might not have time to navigate through an obstacle course.

This has lead to an FAA proposed rule to limit structure heights, commonly known as the “one engine inoperative rule.” That’s why the Northern Virginia Democrat, who is retiring at the end of this term, spoke out Wednesday at a House committee hearing.

“Most people have no clue what that means,” he said of one-engine inoperative. He said it would require that buildings or other structures be 90-feet shorter that previously allowed, and means that 4,000 buildings near airports nationwide already would be in violation. Almost 170 of those too-tall buildings are in Northern Virginia, he said, which is home to both Reagan National and Dulles International airports.

“It’s going to cost local communities millions of dollars, and ultimately billions of dollars, in economic growth,” the silver-haired lawmaker said. “There are thousands and thousands of buildings under consideration that would by impacted by this.”

Why would the FAA do this, he asked rhetorically?

“I asked the airlines and they said it just doesn’t happen that one of the engines goes out. We’ve done millions of flights. It hasn’t happened,” he said. “What’s behind this is that the airlines want to be able to load more passengers and more cargo so they can make more money. And, of course, the airport authorities are happy with that because they get some of that money.”

The FAA set June 27 as the deadline for public comment on its proposal. Moran wants the agency to do a cost-benefit analysis before it moves ahead.

“Who pays the price?” he said. “The local communities that are around those airports are going to pay that price with substantially restricted economic development opportunities.”


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