Northern Virginia’s Congressional delegation and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton are wasting no time in telling leaders on the Hill that they shouldn’t mess with flights in and out of National Airport.

Consider it the opening salvo in what could be a tough battle for the Virginia delegation.

As Sen. Tim Kaine (D) noted at a recent forum on the future of Dulles Airport, the state’s 13-member delegation will fight any effort to tinker with operations at National, but they face major opposition — namely 522 other legislators who want to fly home as fast as possible and want to do it from an airport that is five miles from their offices rather than the one that is about 30 miles away.

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In a strongly worded letter to the chairs and ranking members of both the Senate and House transportation committees, the legislators say they are opposed to any effort to change the flight rules that govern how many flights fly in and out of National Airport and how far they are allowed to travel.

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National and Dulles are unique in that they are the federal government’s only commercial airports. While they are operated and managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), Congress can still step in make changes as they have during the three other Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization processes. That’s something that has long chaffed the representatives as members from outside the area have pushed for rule changes. As the group writes:

Just as you would not want out-of-state members dictating operations at your home state airports, we will strongly oppose efforts to make changes at airports that serve our communities and constituents.

In the letter, the members note that since 2000 changes to the rules have hurt business at Dulles International Airport while creating capacity problems at National.

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Changes in 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. As a consequence, airline growth at Dulles International has declined as carriers have shifted flights from Dulles International to Reagan National. Since 2000, domestic passengers at Reagan National have grown by 31%, while Dulles has declined 9%. Since 2012, domestic passengers at Reagan National have grown by 5.5%, while Dulles declined by 7.2%. That decline in domestic traffic at Dulles International is, in part, directly attributable to changes made by Congress to the operational rules at Reagan National. Any further loosening of the existing slot and perimeter rules will exacerbate the imbalance between the region’s important airport assets.
Changes to existing law should not be made unilaterally by Congress, but rather through the mutual agreement of all parties concerned.

The letter is signed by Virginia Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Kaine (D), Reps. Gerry Connolly (D), Don Beyer (D), Barbara Comstock (R) as well as Norton (D).

MWAA also is dealing with increasing numbers of noise complaints as a result of the growth in air traffic. Norton is holding a community meeting Tuesday evening to address complaints from residents in some northwest neighborhoods, including the Palisades.

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It is not clear whether other members will push to add more flights or increase the number of long-distance flights out of Reagan National in this next FAA reauthorization. But if history is any guide, lawmakers — particularly those from western states — won’t be able to help themselves.

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MWAA faces the difficult challenge of trying to reverse the slide at Dulles Airport. This year, more passengers are expected to fly out of National than Dulles, even though it is 14 times the size of National. Officials think if they can get through the next reauthorization process with no rule changes at National that will enable them to build back what they’ve lost at Dulles.

We’ll see.

Read the full text of the letter here.

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