Once upon a time, National Airport was pretty much the only commercial airport in town. BWI was a minor landing strip known as Friendship Airport, and Dulles was a concept waiting to happen. But when Dulles opened for business, the notion was that it would become an international airport (and its presence would spur suburban growth). National would be a domestic airport with limited service.
Back in the 1960s, flights out of Reagan were limited to 650 miles, except for a few that were grandfathered in when that restriction was imposed. That perimeter, as it is known, was increased to 1,000 miles in 1981 and bumped up to 1,250 miles in 1987.
But that’s still not far enough to get some members of Congress home on a direct flight from National to, say, Phoenix. That may explain why Sen. John McCain kicked up a fuss in 1999 when he unsuccessfully proposed to do away with the perimeter rule. Three years later, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted a few more exemptions to allow flights to Portland, Puerto Rico, Austin and San Francisco.
The issue came up again Thursday, when Rep. Blake Farenthold offered up an amendment in the House Transportation Committee that would expand the perimeter to 1,425 miles. Desiring to be thoroughly transparent, Farenthold acknowledged that the expansion he proposed would allow for direct flights to his hometown: Corpus Christi, Tex., 1,384 miles from Reagan National.
“The perimeter rule may have been justified years ago to help Dulles get started,” Farenthold told the committee, “but there’s no justification now for Congress to tell these airlines how far they can fly.”
He withdrew the amendment, however, after bipartisan opposition from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.).
“This has been a perennial problem for this region,” said Norton, who also has wrestled with issues of noise created by jets flying in and out of Reagan.
Comstock, who represents a Northern Virginia district, pointed out that “Reagan National is small and doesn’t really have room to expand” to accommodate more flights.
Farenthold was graceful in defeat, but he cautioned that “this is an issue about which we’ll hear again.”