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Senators threaten MWAA over DCA flight restrictions

Last year, members of the United States Senate were threatening to take over Metro if they didn't get what they wanted. Now, they're making those threats against the local airport authority, because it isn't acceding to western senators' demands to allow longer distance flights at National Airport.


Photo by Scorpions and Centaurs on Flickr.

WTOP reports that Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are calling for hearings into the the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), its governance and finances after officials defended the rules limiting long-distance flights.

MWAA officials said adding flights at Dulles National and replacing other short-range flights with flights to the west will reduce traffic at Dulles and impact revenue expected from the Silver Line. They also argued that the airport's parking, security screening and baggage handling couldn't handle the additional demand.

Local senators, led by Mark Warner (D-VA) have been protecting the rule, which is popular in Arlington because it limits noise from aircraft. Last time we had this debate, though, commenters pointed out that relaxing the rule would lead to more midday flights, not night flights (since National's slot limitations only apply during the day), and that larger planes aren't as loud as they once were.

Virginia and Maryland's senators also are mostly protecting Dulles and BWI, wanting to drive as much traffic there. Each airport is more convenient to more of their constituents but less convenient to DC. More remote airports also drive sprawl, creating incentives for large office parks to locate near the airport but very distant from the rest of the region.

Meanwhile, unless the plan has changed, it would replace some amount of micromanaging at National with other micromanaging by different senators. For example, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) included tried to include a provision requiring four small carriers to fly to West Texas, likely not the area with the highest travel demand to and from DC.

It's be great if hearings into MWAA looked into another important issue: Why MWAA is less transparent and accountable to local residents than other governing bodies. When MWAA decided to take away funding for Fairfax Connector buses along the Dulles Toll Road and prioritize freeway construction, there was little accountability. Unfortunately, when these senators talk about accountability, they naturally just mean accountability to them.

What do you think?

Update: Joe Brenckle from the Republican side of the Commerce Committee explained some details of the current proposal. It does not include Senator Hutchison's suggested amendment requiring some flights to West Texas. It would add 5 flights to go to "new entrant or limited incumbent air carriers" which could go outside the perimeter, and allow up to 16 existing flights to be changed to ones beyond the perimeter.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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The argument that it would reduce revenue to the silver line is completely backwards. How could anyone possibly argue for policies that are explicitly designed make people travel further, regardless of short-term economic considerations?

It sounds like they are already coming to terms with the obvious reality: few sane people will take the metro from a DC based starting point to Dulles because it will be an impossibly long trip, and other options will be better most of the time.

If more flights can be added at National safely, I can't think of any good reason not to do so.

Mark Warner is stupid to prevent expansion at National, though. He should realize that BWI is more convenient than Dulles for much of DC, and the silver line isn't going to change that.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 11:20 am • linkreport

You have to wonder how much of this complaining is coming from USAir. Since the merger, the really need DCA to be more of a regional hub.

Also, let's be honest: an airport with 1 runway is always going to be somewhat limited in operations.

I'd rather see MWAA look out for the public, and bring in low cost carriers which will reduce all prices at DCA, rather than have them have another argument about perimeters.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

The MWAA has already brought in low-cost carriers that have helped reduce prices at DCA. With the exception of Air Canada, all of Terminal A are low-cost carriers (AirTran, Spirit, Frontier, and come November jetBlue) and Southwest is trying to get landing slots at DCA as well. Expanding the defination, USAir and their focus city somewhat falls into the same; the airline even changed its ticker symbol to LCC post-America West merger.

Yes, DCA isn't like a BWI now (key Southwest base, AirTran focus city) or Dulles during the Independence Air experiment in terms of low-fare flights, but it's better off than many other airports in that regard.

by Jason on Sep 20, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

I don't really understand the controversy -- The US Air flights to Vegas & Phoenix are often done with A319s which are the same planes they use for the shuttles. The neighbors of the airport can reasonably complain about the size of the planes and the hours that they fly, but what difference does it make if the plane goes to New York or Los Angeles if it's the same plane at the same time? If the concern is about slots I'm sure the airlines would gladly cut regional jet service to whatever small market they serve now to serve a major west market.

The effect will probably be a slight reduction in fares at Dulles-- sucks for United but that's what you get for being in the boondocks

by CBGB on Sep 20, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

few sane people will take the metro from a DC based starting point to Dulles because it will be an impossibly long trip, and other options will be better most of the time

Like what? Parking at any airport sucks. I'll gladly trade a few minutes of travel time for the ability to hop off of a train, and walk up to the ticket counter.

The shuttle's cheap-ish (and currently your best bet), but it sure as heck isn't fast, still costs more than a Metro ticket, and can get stuck in traffic.

by andrew on Sep 20, 2010 11:39 am • linkreport

The proposal doesn't actually add many flights. They want to add 10 slots (five flights), and convert 32 existing slots (16 flights). The airport is effectively at capacity during the day, so there isn't going to be much more service at National without spending lots and lots of money. This is just increasing the the mount of service beyond the 1250 mile perimeter.

Honestly, this whole argument is mostly about getting congressmen out of town more conveniently. There's a reason the first beyond perimeter service was the McCain Express to Phoenix, and it's not Senator McCain's concern for the cost of DC residents' travel.

by jcm on Sep 20, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

The shuttle is barely more expensive than a Metro trip will be from DC. I said "most of the time" because it might be risky during rush hour to take the shuttle. But even from Foggy Bottom, the closest station in DC, it will be an hour. It's 18 stops. For people in most of the population centers in DC it will be easily 80 or 90 minutes. Plus walking. That is not "a few minutes." I've never had a drive to Dulles take anywhere near that long.

The whole point here is that Dulles doesn't exist in isolation. The Silver Line doesn't help DC residents much because it's not better in most situations than our existing options to get to Dulles. It's not like people will suddenly start to choose it over the other airports because of the silver line, and it primarily benefits people who already live close enough to cab or get someone to drop them off anyway.

As it is now, you can take the train to BWI in about the same time. I don't see tons of people doing that.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

@Jason; fair point. And yes, USAir could be considered a LCC is some ways; but maybe not on the fares.

And maybe it is time for a grand bargain: relax the permitter rule, and get rid of those MD-80s. Or whatever American is flying that causes so much noise!

MY point however, is again: one runway. There will be some sort of slot restrictions because of neighborhoods. Given that, it is better to allocate those slots via the market, or some other mechanism? I am not convinced that letting the "market" take over is going to do much good.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

As someone who lives in the flight path, I think there's an urbanist argument against adding more noisy flights in a dense urban area.

But if it's the same number of flights and the same planes (or less-noisy ones), then I don't really care where they're flying to.

by Gavin on Sep 20, 2010 11:53 am • linkreport

I live in Arlington so I've had some opportunity to listen to those planes. Honestly, there's barely a difference between a 737NG and the regional jets. Sometimes the newer planes are even quieter. As someone else pointed out, we're still going to have the same number of planes, so why fuss about where they go?

by Max D. on Sep 20, 2010 11:58 am • linkreport

There are two issues here: safety and local governance.

Safety: DCA has some of the shortest runways in the country. The longest is 6,869 ft compared to Dulles's shortest at 9,400. Dulles's longest is 11,500ft. Longer hauls mean larger planes which means more room needed to take off and land. Some of these senators are forgetting the devastating 1982 Air Florida crash which put a plane into the 14th St bridge killing 78 including people on the ground.

Local Governance: This is a regional issues. Those Senators from who knows where not here can stick their noses in someone else's business. This has nothing to do with them.

by DAJ on Sep 20, 2010 12:19 pm • linkreport

Can I just say that I would be overjoyed if they added just ONE nonstop flight from National to the San Francisco area. Alaska has nonstops from DCA to LA & Seattle... why not SF?

by George on Sep 20, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

Those Senators from who knows where not here can stick their noses in someone else's business. This has nothing to do with them.

LOL. You must be new to DC.

by Vicente Fox on Sep 20, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

DAJ -

With regards to safety, planes as large as the 767-200 are capable of landing and taking off at DCA. The runway is plenty long enough to support a trip across the country, particularly the 737s and Airbuses. The Air Florida accident was due to ice that formed on the wings, not the length of the runway.

by Max D. on Sep 20, 2010 12:31 pm • linkreport

There is absolutely no safety issue here whatsoever with the length of DCA's runways. None. Zero. Nada.

If you absolutely had to, you could land a fully loaded 747 or C-5 at DCA. You wouldn't want to for a host of reasons, but if you had to, you could do it. By the way, there are no set "runway minimums," since safe landing distance is based on a combination of weather, load, and altitude.

The Air Florida crash was in no way caused by the length of DCA's runways. Using a single accident from 1982 as the basis for airline policy 28 years later is ridiculous. You might as well permanently close Albuquerque's airport because a plane crashed into Sandia Peak in 1955.

As for federal, vs. local control of the airport. Every single airport is under some form of federal control. If the airport in Reno or Raleigh or anywhere else wants to add slots or routes, the federal government is involved.

As for "urbanism," you could make an argument that the DCA flight restrictions had as much to do with the growth of the DC suburbs as any other policy of the last 30 years. The flight restrictions at DCA helped make Dulles, and the Dulles corridor what it is today (good or bad). The same is true in Dallas, where federal rules restricting flights at Love Field built up DFW airport and helped create a massive suburban sprawl around the airport.

by airliner on Sep 20, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

I don't know about the length of the runway, but only having one would seem to be a safety issue. Not that it is stopping operations right now.

Thought game: break MWAA into two airports, and eliminate the perimeter rule. What would happen? I'm not 100% sure that DCA takes off.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

It is refreshing to see senators just abuse their power for their own interest as opposed to the usual abuse of power for their donors. As usual, concerns for regular citizens are not even in the picture.

Senators do not like to go to Dulles or BWI in stead of DCA, and therefore they want to fly from Reagan. And when they don't get their way, they behave like cry-babies.

The biggest fallacy of this all that if Congress believed its own national security guide-lines, Reagan would have been closed 9 years and 8 days ago.

by Jasper on Sep 20, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

I'd hesitate to compare the ridership between BWI and IAD per existing conditions, as each airport serves very different markets. BWI has a strong domestic presence with AirTran and Southwest; whereas IAD definitely claims a major share of the international market with United (along with the other Star Alliance carriers) providing excellent European coverage.

So before debating which is more popular; instead debate *why* they are the way they are -- why one tends to be geared toward a stronger domestic edge; why another is geared toward an international edge; and how DCA (not a strong hub for anyone & a barely an international presence) affects the standing of all involved.

by Bossi on Sep 20, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

@Bossi, I think it's safe to say that most people travel domestically a lot more than internationally. Since DCA is only domestic anyway, all the debate here only matters for domestic travel to begin with.

Personally, I use Dulles much more these days, but that's mostly because BWI doesn't serve my most common destination very well, and because I have tons of United frequent flyer miles. But when I pay, I almost always fly out of National if it's not dramatically more expensive. When DCA isn't practical because there's no good flight or it's much more expensive, I will always choose BWI over Dulles, all other things being equal.

A lot of people seem to think of Dulles as geographically closer, but it's really not. From my central DC home in Columbia Heights, according to Google Maps, BWI is 34 miles and Dulles is 30 miles.

From a traffic standpoint, getting out of the city to the north during rush hour is far, far easier than getting out of the city to Virginia at the same time, and I-95 is far better than I-66 once you're out of the city.

Finally, the train is in fact an option to BWI. The Marc takes exactly 35 minutes to get from Union Station to the BWI station. From there, the shuttle could add 20 minutes. This makes the total travel time from a typical DC place around 70-80 minutes, which is almost exactly the same as one could expect using the Silver Line from a DC based point of origin.

That's not a short trip. I've done it a couple times in my life. But since it's virtually identical time/convenience wise to what the silver line will offer I don't see how that's going to influence people's decision very much.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 1:19 pm • linkreport

The MWAA is just going to have to bite the bullet and allow longer-distance flights at Reagan National. In the short term, yes, this may slightly impact growth at Dulles.

But for MWAA to say that Silver Line funding may be harmed by moving a few flights to Reagan National is nothing short of a canard. As the MWAA owns and operates both Reagan National and Dulles, revenues will not drop one iota if traffic is shifted between the two airports.

What appears to really going on is the MWAA is simply parroting the wails and hand-wringing of local politicians, who themselves are heeding to the standard knee-jerk opposition of a few Arlington and Alexandria residents to any longer-distance flights whatsoever because of noise concerns. But the noise argument is fast becoming irrelevant because jets today are much quieter than in the past, and newer models are planned to be even more quieter.

Let's bring on the longer-distance flights at Reagan National! If the MWAA is smart, perhaps by conceding a bit and making a deal, they can wring the federal coffers for some additional funds for the Silver Line's construction.

by InArlington on Sep 20, 2010 1:20 pm • linkreport

Most people in DC dislike going to IAD and BWI just as much as these U.S. Senators. I don't know anyone who enjoys taking extra time out of their day for airport travel. It means less work time, less leisure time, less time with your kids, or whatever it is you do. Think about how terrific it would be to have some non-stop Southwest flights to Vegas out of DCA...Bloomingdale to Bellagio in about five hours.

by aaa on Sep 20, 2010 1:22 pm • linkreport

MWAA officials said adding flights at Dulles and replacing other short-range flights with flights to the west will reduce traffic at Dulles and impact revenue expected from the Silver Line.

Is this a typo? Do you mean, "adding flights at National"?

More remote airports also drive sprawl, creating incentives for large office parks to locate near the airport but very distant from the rest of the region.

What is your definition of "sprawl"? And is it bad? I think adding employment in the suburbs is generally a good thing, because the people who work at those jobs can live closer to them.

by David desJardins on Sep 20, 2010 1:27 pm • linkreport

What's remarkable to me through the course of many discussions about the Dulles metro location (spend a billion dollars to make it 3 minutes' walk closer to the terminal or not?) is that the time to get through security at Dulles takes at least a half an hour, and the walk from the front door to the terminal (and various trains/trams/moving walkways between) takes a half hour.

Instead of trying to shave off a few minutes of walking time how about address the other side of the problem? Hire some more TSA drones.

I don't know why this is so hard for them, but the security line at National always takes far less time than Dulles. There's no reason why this should be: a bigger airport should have commensurately more people working there. The backup at dulles is always for the ID check queue, not for the x-ray machines.

This single problem is what makes Dulles such a gamble, and you have to plan on security possibly taking 45 minutes which basically adds that much time to your trip at the front end. At national I plan on it taking 10 minutes and have never had to sweat.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

@Jamie - wouldn't it be much easier for you to just take the greenline from Col Hgts to Greenbelt and catch the B30 express to BWI rather than taking Greenline to redline to union station/MARC to shuttle bus? Only one change instead of 3. Also, MARC doesn't run on weekends.

by Tina Jones on Sep 20, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Bossi; interesting point.

Airport revenue: rents, landing fees, and concession sales.

The massive profit (50 million?) they are making on the toll road isn't counted in that, as that money is being redirected into building the rail line.

@ InArlington; I think your approach is correct. One caveat: as much as people talk about newer jets being quieter -- and they can be -- there seems to be a lot of older jets on the approaches.

Funny how people get upset about MWAA being "not open" but are happen to take the golden money from the toll road w/o any questions.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

I wonder just where it is that Senator Rockefeller wants to go.

by ksu499 on Sep 20, 2010 1:48 pm • linkreport

@Tina - yes, probably. I haven't done this since I lived in Columbia Heights. If I was traveling on the weekend, it's doubtful I would take public transit. Door to door drive takes about 45 minutes to BWI, I'd either drive & park for a short trip or take the super shuttle for a longer one. Or get a ride if I was lucky.

But my point is the same, it's not going to be any quicker to get to Dulles than it currently is for most DC residents, because of the silver line.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 1:49 pm • linkreport

Are there any pools on when the Silver Line is officially declared the Metro budget buster?

And I'm all for additional distance out of National as long as it's safe. It will clearly benefit consumers by saving them the trip out to Dulles or BWI - even though it it clearly being pushed by self-interested Congressmen.

by Fritz on Sep 20, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

@Fritz: And I'm all for additional distance out of National as long as it's safe. It will clearly benefit consumers by saving them the trip out to Dulles or BWI - even though it it clearly being pushed by self-interested Congressmen.

Why isn't it zero-sum? For every traveler out of National on a long-distance flight who benefits, isn't there a traveler on a short-distance flight who gets shifted to Dulles?

by David desJardins on Sep 20, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

@David desJardins: If I'm a DC consumer and I regularly fly to California, why would I care about someone else getting shifted to Dulles? All I'd care about is that my trip to the airport is now shorter and more convenient (although it will likely cost quite a bit more than flying to the same location out of IAD or BWI).

by Fritz on Sep 20, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

Concerns about noise should be based on two factors - the total number of flights, and the type of airplane flying them.

Larger planes aren't necessarily louder than small ones - but, in general, older planes are quite a bit louder than newer ones.

Likewise, longer distance flights don't mean bigger planes than the ones that already service National. Due to the size of the facilities, National is never going to service widebody aircraft. It handles A320s and other similar aircraft right now - all of the A320 variants have a range of at least 3,000 nautical miles (DCA to SFO is ~2,200 nautical miles for reference).

by Alex B. on Sep 20, 2010 2:15 pm • linkreport

They ought to shut DCA down. Too much noise eminates out of that place, regardless of where the planes are going.

by Rosslyn on Sep 20, 2010 2:15 pm • linkreport

And maybe it is time for a grand bargain: relax the permitter rule, and get rid of those MD-80s. Or whatever American is flying that causes so much noise!

The good news is that American has a large order for new 737s with deliveries happening every month, and for every 737 received they are retiring the oldest of the MD-80s.

However, Delta has a pretty large MD-80 fleet (albeit newer than American's) and no plans for replacements in the short term. Their 80's are regularly scheduled into DCA as well.

by Mainland on Sep 20, 2010 2:54 pm • linkreport

It's the year 2010. Where's my FLYING CAR? We were promised flying cars. All this airport stuff should be moot.

by dynaryder on Sep 20, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

$200K and it's yours: http://www.terrafugia.com/

You still need an airport, though.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

@ Mainland; the old Northwest planes?

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

@ charlie

These MD-80s have always been with Delta.

Northwest operated DC-9s, louder and older than the MD-80, on a few flights into DCA up until the merger with Delta. Delta has quickly retired many of the DC-9s, and currently the only way they'll come into DCA is on a last minute aircraft swap. Delta's MD-80's (technically speaking MD-88's, compared to American's 82 & 83's) are a little bit younger than American's and fill a niche in their fleet (plus they're spending millions right now upgrading their interiors..), so I don't expect them to be replaced any time soon.

by Mainland on Sep 20, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport

The old NWA DC-9s are in the final phase of their retirement period. The MD-80's belong to Delta.

Anyway, if noise is a concern, it makes more sense to place restrictions on the permitted aircraft types not the permitted destinations. I believe DCA already does this.

by Phil on Sep 20, 2010 3:35 pm • linkreport

@mainland; thanks. I never had the luck of ever flying Delta, and I've given up on NWA after the merger. But it seems to me - and this is extremely anecdotal -- that the rear engine aircraft are louder. Never sure if it was engine design or placement.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

@David desJardins
Why isn't it zero-sum? For every traveler out of National on a long-distance flight who benefits, isn't there a traveler on a short-distance flight who gets shifted to Dulles?
That's my question, if I'm flying to Columbus, Ohio or Manchester, New Hampshire (where the flight is about 45 minutes) getting stuck flying out of Dulles effectively doubles the total travel time from DC, but if I'm going to spend 5 hours on the plane anyway going to the west coast, an hour or so to Dulles is a much smaller share of my total travel time.

If they refuse to add slots at DCA to accommodate new flights, long-haul flyers should suck it up and go to IAD or BWI.

by Steve S on Sep 20, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

All this talk is starting to make me want to play Aircraft Mogul again... if only they could model the politics of DC's airports...

by Bossi on Sep 20, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

But it seems to me - and this is extremely anecdotal -- that the rear engine aircraft are louder.

There's some truth to that, though age and size are other factors. The 717 and MD-90, fairly new rear engine planes, are far quieter than their MD-80 'parents'. AirTran flies the 717 into DCA regularly, and Delta is the largest operator of MD-90s....maybe a few are scheduled in currently, I'm not sure. The MD-80s of American and Delta make up the VAST majority of rear engine mainline aircraft in the U.S though.

Here's a nifty little site where you can play with take off decibel levels at DCA, with a guide for decibel levels of differing aircraft.

http://www.caan.org/footprnt.html

by Mainland on Sep 20, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

I've taken a Delta MD-90 into DCA before. They are typically scheduled as the last flight of the day into DCA from hub airports because they are, somewhat surprisingly, exempt from the curfew on other aircraft.

by Phil on Sep 20, 2010 4:18 pm • linkreport

Why isn't it zero-sum? For every traveler out of National on a long-distance flight who benefits, isn't there a traveler on a short-distance flight who gets shifted to Dulles?

Not necessarily. The cost of the short flight from national may be artificially low, so it's effectively subsidized. That traveller may choose alternative transportation means.

BTW, the point about Air Florida hasn't been beaten to death yet, because no one has noted it was a 737, a plane model quite frequently used at National.

Anyway, if the concern is airplanes that are "too big" why not impose a rule that bans (except for emergencies) 777, 747, and other large aircraft?

by ah on Sep 20, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

To further beat that dead horse, the plane crashed on takeoff because of weather conditions and de-icing problems. It had nothing to do with National's short runways. Same thing could have happened anywhere.

by Jamie on Sep 20, 2010 4:28 pm • linkreport

@ah

747s will not be serving DCA, the runways and infrastructure do not support doing so. A 747 could probably land and take off at DCA, but doing so with a full load of passengers and fuel would be pushing it. Also, 747s are used almost exclusively for international traffic, and DCA is not equipped with the appropriate customs and international arrival facilities.

I also wouldn't worry about 777s, either. I think you could get an empty 777 up with 5,000 feet of runway, but I know some operators, by rule, do not operate 777s on runways of less than 7,000 feet. DCA's longest runway is 6,800.

by Alex B. on Sep 20, 2010 4:43 pm • linkreport

The Silver Line to Dulles WILL be a much better option for DC AND Maryland residents. I imagine there are plenty of air travelers in these locales who either don't have a car or if they do have a car, don't mind having a longer traveling time by Metro, especially if have to head to Dulles during rush hour.

For those of us without cars, DCA is the go-to airport option for the obvious reason that it has a metro station. But, as everyone knows, flights are limited and usually more expensive compared to Dulles and BWI. Getting to Dulles using public transportation is not impossible, but it's not nearly as easy or quick as a Metro ride on the Silver Line will hopefully be.

The silver line will also be great for when my family or relatives visit me, especially during the workday. Sure, they could also catch the Flyer or the Metro Bus, but the reality is that people would much rather take a Metro train, even if it ends up being slower or slightly more expensive.

by A-lo on Sep 20, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B. I understand that, and it is my point. If the concern is larger aircraft (which aren't able to takeoff anyway) then ban them, including 767s if appropriate.

But there's little difference between a 757 going to Orlando or LA in terms of noise, yet somehow flying to LA is an issue because it might mean larger aircraft? What larger aircraft--the ones that can't land at National?

by ah on Sep 20, 2010 5:10 pm • linkreport

@Phil; the curfew exemption is interesting. One would think the MD-80s should be covered more.

@AlexB; your point about customs facilities leads me to a tangent: there are a lot of government regulation, many that we don't see, that create a particular market. Allocating slots by the "market" isn't a perfect system either, and may benefit one player over another. MWAA's role in this should be act in the public interest, rather than for one side or another.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

@ah: exactly!

@David desJardin: Even if it is zero-sum, Shouldn't the market (ie the airlines) determine which routes to fly? If fliers are willing to pay more for flights to LAX or SFO from DCA than flights to Manchester NH or Columbus OH, than there is more demand and they ought to fly there. The government should dictate the appropriate aircraft that meet acceptable safety and noise regulations and not worry about what routes they can and can't serve with them.

It's the same reason you can fly hourly to Boston on 3 (soon to be 4) different airlines but there's only one flight a week to Myrtle Beach.

@aaa: You can do Bloomingdale to the Bellagio (or Woodley Park to the Wynn if you prefer) via US Air in under 5 hours.

by CBGB on Sep 20, 2010 5:24 pm • linkreport

The biggest airplane to land at National in recent history was a United Airlines DC-10 that made an emergency landing there in 1998. (I'd hoped to send some traffic to my employer's site by linking to our original story, but the only detailed reference I could find was this discussion thread elsewhere.) I wish I'd been hanging out at Gravelly Point to see that take off or land.

As others have noted earlier, the A319s and A320s already used at National routinely fly transcontinental routes. Boeing 757s, also a common sight there, have transatlantic range.

And yes, if you're worried about noise, DC-9s and MD-80s are the worst offenders today. But even those aren't that bad compared to the 727s that used to drown out conversation in Georgetown classrooms in my undergrad days.

by Rob Pegoraro on Sep 20, 2010 5:30 pm • linkreport

@Fritz: If I'm a DC consumer and I regularly fly to California, why would I care about someone else getting shifted to Dulles? All I'd care about is that my trip to the airport is now shorter and more convenient (although it will likely cost quite a bit more than flying to the same location out of IAD or BWI).

It's all about you, now? I thought we were talking about everyone. You claimed the change would "clearly benefit consumers". The change means some consumers have a shorter trip, but some have a longer trip. On average, are they any better off?

by David desJardins on Sep 20, 2010 9:35 pm • linkreport

@CBGB: Even if it is zero-sum, Shouldn't the market (ie the airlines) determine which routes to fly? If fliers are willing to pay more for flights to LAX or SFO from DCA than flights to Manchester NH or Columbus OH, than there is more demand and they ought to fly there.

Is anyone proposing that we auction landing slots? That would make sense, but historically they have just been given away.

I don't think that maximizing profit for the airlines aligns perfectly with the interests of consumers, but it's not a bad start.

by David desJardins on Sep 20, 2010 9:37 pm • linkreport

Let me throw out an off the wall / outside the box option:
Convert Andrews AFB in to a dual use military/civilian airfield. Build a civilian facility using the currently closed North Gate (near Suitland Pkwy and Penn Ave). Create a shuttle bus from the Branch Ave metro to the facility (about 4 miles). In the long term extend the Orange line. Rebalance flights between DCA, IAD, BWI, and ADW. In particular, Andrews has two +11,000 ft runways which could handle larger aircraft currently using IAD. For local customers, it would be a much better option than the +1 hour travel time to/from BWI and IAD.

by Smoke_Jaguar4 on Sep 20, 2010 9:45 pm • linkreport

I didn't have time to read everyone's comments but here are my thoughts.

The perimeter rule is government meddling with the free market, which usually is not good. If we want to support Dulles then let's give them a straight up subsidy, but limiting flights out of National is bad policy. If business gets bad at Dulles will we limit DCA to 10 flights a day.

Senators telling the airlines where to fly is even worse. KBH should be ashamed of herself.

To whoever said we should auction slots at the airports - I agree. Limiting the number of flights at DCA for safety and noise makes sense. Limiting the size of planes for safety makes sense. But otherwise, let the market decide.

What the perimeter rule does is make short-distance flights cheaper. So let's consider what would happen if we remove it:

1. There would be more long distance flights out of DCA.
2. There might be fewer short distance flights out of DCA, depending on how many new slots will be allowed - and that might be zero. Most of these will probably be along the NE corridor where Amtrak competes.
3. There might be fewer LD flights out of Dulles and BWI.
4. There might be more SD flights out of IAD and BWI.
5. There will probably more people taking Amtrak to/from DC as well as the I-95 buses.
6. Because of 5, there might be fewer total flights between the three airports.

So DCA wins, Amtrak wins, people in DC win, Amtrak wins, traffic goes down since people in DC don't have to go to far away airports as often. The airlines break even (loss of flights, but less changing people at hubs). Dulles and BWI lose. Just give those airports some money and let's do this.

by David C on Sep 20, 2010 10:57 pm • linkreport

@DavidC; so nice of you to drop in from Cato.

But before I start drinking the kool-aid, let me go back to facts:

1) Dulles doesn't need "supporting' anymore; it makes more money than DCA for MWAA. Throw in the toll road -- which is being used to build the Silver Line -- and it is even more.

2) Are you even aware that DC isn't the largest jurisdiction in the area? or the second largest? Or the third? Or the fourth? And, strangely enough, some of those people fly. A lot.

3) In terms of auctioning slots, that is such a cute idea. So, you would make the current tenants pay for what they have - and disrupt the entire hub and spoke system? And why do I suspect that the government charging more for landing slots would mean higher ticket prices for the rest of us?

Brain dead market ideology.

Starting off a discussion with saying the perimeter rule should be changed to one based on noise only -- that makes a certain degree of sense. Market fundamentalists preaching pricing as the only answer -- so 2004.

by charlie on Sep 20, 2010 11:13 pm • linkreport

@charlie.

To point 1: So what. I said "if" we want to support Dulles.
To point 2: Again, I have to say, so what? (BTW, if I give you Fairfax, MoCo, and PG what else is bigger than DC?) What do those facts mean to you?
To point 3: I hardly think that auctioning slots would "disrupt the whole system". DOT was going to do this in NYC. Perhaps you can find a study that predicted what you claim? And why do I suspect that the government charging more for landing slots would mean higher ticket prices for the rest of us? If done right, it would merely offset the tax you pay to fly.

by David C on Sep 20, 2010 11:37 pm • linkreport

@DavidC; the basic point is the majority of flyers in this area AREN'T coming from DC. They are coming from somewhere else. And that is why, after years of suburban sprawl, Dulles is finally a profitable airport -- your model of "subsidies" is decades old at this point.

In terms of the proposed FAA auction in NYC, the last I heard of it a court slapped it down. Another dumb Mary Peters idea, and I don't know if the Obama people have tried to bring it back to life. And the concerns about raising ticket prices is partially why it went to court. And in any case, the origin of that idea was there wasn't overuse in NYC airports, which is not the problem here.

Since you post is more about promoting Amtrak than about flying, what can I expect.

by charlie on Sep 21, 2010 12:25 am • linkreport

I don't know if Dulles is profitable or not. MWAA says it isn't and that's why they need to limit flights at DCA. If they're wrong it doesn't change anything I said except that we don't have to subsidize Dulles.

On the auction. You didn't argue that it was illegal (easily fixed by Congress) you argued that it would wreak havoc. No fair changing your argument.

My comment was about serving everyone best, and that means letting people who live near DCA, which is probably the closest airport to more people than Dulles, fly to SF direct if the airlines want to provide that. And yes, the perimeter rule does hurt Amtrak and the buses. If the perimeter rule is good, why not drop it to 500 miles? What is magical about the distance they choose? Why not institute it elsewhere?

by David C on Sep 21, 2010 12:48 am • linkreport

@DavidC; Look at the 2010 MWAA budget. Dulles is pulling in far more revenue than Dulles (about twice as much) and while it is hard to separate out expenses (because of shared expenses) it is clearly making more money. And that is with a $5 billion capital program at Dulles coming to an end. Your idea of "subsidizing Dulles" is way in the past buddy.

And why do keep harping about the FAA slot auctions -- airlines in NYC didn't like it, consumers didn't like it, courts didn't like and apparently the Obama Administration doesn't like it. It's a bad idea, period. And again, it works when you've got a congested airspace in a metro area -- not for one airport.

If you would bother to read the comments, you'd see I'd admit the permitter rule could be swapped for a noise-based rule. However, let's not throw the baby out with bathwater. Noise is a real concern for parts of Arlington, Alexandria and NW DC.

Is there a real demand for flying 737 across the country? Airlines like to make profits, and they use big jets for reasons. Throw in business travel, and also international connectors, and you can make a strong case for Dulles. Also cargo.

And I do love the irony of googoos complaining about political interference at DCA. No offense, that is WHY the airport was built after all. * The Soviet system of dual international/domestic airports doesn't really work with our privatized airlines, but that's what we have, and tinkering with in the name of the "free market" can be dangerous.

As I said before, it would be an interesting game to break up MWAA and let Dulles and DCA compete. Given the continued need for noise and flight restrictions at DCA, I don't see them winning that war.

by charlie on Sep 21, 2010 1:46 am • linkreport

@Smoke_Jaguar4: That's just IAD to those of us inside the Beltway, just in a different direction. Besides USAF will argue they already had to give up Bolling's runway for DCA and they don't need to share an AFB that handles Air Force 1. I see your argument as valid, I just don't think (if you'll pardon the pun) it will fly.

Maybe the big question is this: you chose to live under an existing flight path, how about you just move instead of complaining about a pre-existing situation? It's like people moving to 17th Street and complaining about the noise.

You can fly a 737 across the Atlantic and some airlines do, especially if it's a thin route, but ideally you don't want anything smaller than a 757 if you are flying with economy/steerage on board.

@charlie: LCY in London does great business and it does do international service as well, but its genesis was very much a free market design. Ditto the survival of TXL, BMA, or a number of other city airports.

by copperred on Sep 21, 2010 2:17 am • linkreport

Why can't we just allow long-haul flights, but only on smaller planes?

Problem solved.

by anon on Sep 21, 2010 2:50 am • linkreport

@charlie: Is there a real demand for flying 737 across the country?

Yes, CO flies a lot of cross-country 737's even on routes that easily accommodate larger planes.

by David desJardins on Sep 21, 2010 4:23 am • linkreport

Charlie:

And I do love the irony of googoos complaining about political interference at DCA. No offense, that is WHY the airport was built after all. * The Soviet system of dual international/domestic airports doesn't really work with our privatized airlines, but that's what we have, and tinkering with in the name of the "free market" can be dangerous.

That's not how DCA and IAD came about... Construction on National started in 1938. When it opened in 1941, it was more of an airfield suited for DC-3s and other propeller aircraft. It wasn't until the advent of jet aircraft that Dulles came into the picture - and even then, National remains open as a convenience and as something of an anachronism, rather than just moving all operations to Dulles and closing DCA. That's more or less the same story as you'll find in New York with LGA and JFK...

Ask Montreal how their plan to build a new, jet-age airport went.

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2010 7:53 am • linkreport

@Alex B.: Montreal-Mirabel's failure came for several reasons.

1: It was farther from DC than Dulles and it offered next to no domestic connectivity for those flying in from abroad. Imagine if you flew into Dulles but had to schlep to DCA to make a connection?

2: Mirabel's viability fell after Bill 101 was passed and with it most of Montreal's commerce (and Anglophones) moved to English-friendly Toronto.

3: Quebec in the 1970's was a place where people made decisions first and realized the cost/consequences later. Mirabel, Bill 101, and the fact that Olympic Stadium had piles of debt that wasn't paid off until several years after the Expos became the Nats and now sits vacant save for flea markets, car shows, and CFL playoff football.

by Jason on Sep 21, 2010 9:16 am • linkreport

Well, my larger point was that there wasn't some master plan to have both a domestic and an international airport. DCA is a domestic airport because it dates back to the days before jet engines, therefore it does not have the runways or capacity to serve as an international airport. The relationship between Dulles and National is something of an anachronism, not some master plan.

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2010 9:20 am • linkreport

I've taken a Delta MD-90 into DCA before. They are typically scheduled as the last flight of the day into DCA from hub airports because they are, somewhat surprisingly, exempt from the curfew on other aircraft.

@Phil; the curfew exemption is interesting. One would think the MD-80s should be covered more.

It's not so much that the 90's are exempted, it's just that they're newer planes and their engines were built quieter. The engines in the older 80's are naturally louder, and while 'hushkits' have been developed and installed (likely on all 80's) they don't lower the decibel level enough on takeoff and landing to abide by DCA's rules. Side note: All those MD-80's can't depart until after 7am when the noise limitations are lifted, but Delta regularly has a MD-90 leaving right at 6am.

For reference here's the rule:

§ 3.11 Nighttime Noise Limitations.
(1) Except in an emergency, and except as allowed by paragraph (2) of this Section, no person may operate an aircraft at National after 9:59 p.m. and before 7:00 a.m. if the estimated noise levels in A-weighted decibels certified for the aircraft type and model by the FAA in accordance with Part 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations exceed the applicable noise limit set forth below. No adjustment for gross weight will be allowed.

Arrivals: 85 dBA as generated on approach.
Departures: 72 dBA as generated on takeoff.

(2) An operation which is scheduled to arrive before 10:00 p.m. and which is cleared for its final approach before 10:30 p.m. shall not be subject to the noise limit for arrivals set forth in paragraph (1) of this
section.

Also (the direct link is too long...) if you google search:

"Estimated Airplane Noise Levels in A-Weighted Decibels"

the first hit should be an FAA site that lists estimated decibel levels for pretty much every commercial aircraft.

by Mainland on Sep 21, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

@David_des_Jardins; last time I checked Continental's only "transcontinental" flights were 767 or 757 from EWR, to LAX, SFO, SAN, and SEA. YEs, they fly their 737 into Houston on some very long distances, but economies of scale are what makes jet operators want big jet on those routes. That and the ability to offer more business class seats.

Not saying there isn't a market for it, but there are reasons why they want bigger jets on their best routes.

@ALexB; I was being sarcastic about the Soviet style airport, and I agree having two airports is a bit of a mess. So let's close National? I'm not sure GGW readers will like that option.

@Mainland; thanks for the links. I need to hop of flightaware at some point. There is a 1AM flight that comes in that manages to wake me up half the time -- want to say it is America West plane?

by charlie on Sep 21, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

@David_des_Jardins; last time I checked Continental's only "transcontinental" flights were 767 or 757 from EWR, to LAX, SFO, SAN, and SEA.

I'm doubtful that you checked. The majority of the Continental flights on all of the routes you mention above are 737s, and always have been.

by David desJardins on Sep 21, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

In fact, I believe Southwest has an all B737 fleet and regulary flies transcons with those aircraft. And they are the most economically viable carrier at the moment so it certainly can be done profitably as well. Besides, who cares whether the airlines want to fly the routes with non-widebodies or not? That's up to them.

by CBGG on Sep 21, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

@charlie, let me try to explain again. I don't know if Dulles needs support or not. And I don't care. It only matters because MWAA has used it as the reason for limiting flights at DCA, though now they blame Silver line revenue. My point is that the perimeter rule is not needed to ensure that IAD or the silver line has adequate revenue.

tinkering with in the name of the "free market" can be dangerous. Define dangerous. Do you think people could die if we remove the perimeter rule?

And why do keep harping about the FAA slot auctions -- airlines in NYC didn't like it, consumers didn't like it, courts didn't like and apparently the Obama Administration doesn't like it. Well then they're all wrong. As someone else pointed out, when you have a limited resource you can distribute via either queue, lottery or auction. I prefer auction. It is the most efficient.

It's a bad idea, period. When ever someone says somthing is such-and-such "Period" that's usually a sign that they're completely unreasonable. Especially when they don't bother to explain why.

it works when you've got a congested airspace in a metro area -- not for one airport. You'll have to explain that to me, because I don't see why it wouldn't work for one airport. And don't we have a congested airspace and aren't we in a metro area? If so, doesn't that mean this would work.

Your idea of "subsidizing Dulles" is way in the past buddy. Don't call me buddy. I don't know you and it comes off as condescending.

by David C on Sep 21, 2010 3:39 pm • linkreport

@ David C; why do I think perhaps MWAA wants Dulles to grow, because, well, it has multiple runways, room to expand, and that well, frankly speaking, is better suited for the future. Blame the NIMBYs in Burke if you think it too far out.

And actually you are right: auctioning slots can work, under a limited set of circumstances. Is it the most "efficient"? You sound like a CATO robot from 1997 during the Communication Act debates. Those circumstance, unfortunately, weren't there in NYC, and are clearly not here in DCA. The problem in DCA is the perimeter rule and whether that needs to be better adapted to the time.

If you look around, FRIEND, you see plenty of evidence in the last two years that the "market' isn't a perfect as people said. Regulation isn't perfect either -- but at least it gives a chance for other concerns to be at the table.

by charlie on Sep 21, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

@Charlie, when did I ask you about MWAA wanting to grow? And why do you keep trying to tie me to Cato? Is that a guilt by association thing? Do you believe that the Cato institute is 100% wrong and so an idea of theirs must be wrong?

What circumstances (other a change in the law by Congress) are missing from DCA that makes auctioning airline slots unworkable? What do you think would go wrong if we did? Generally we regulate markets to protect consumers or the government. What threat do you think consumers and government are under by auctioning slots? I'm not opposed to regulation (like limiting airlines to a maximum percentage of slots to avoid a monopoly or preventing collusion).

Your opinion to fact ratio is starting to get way out of balance. Can we drop the personal elements here? I don't care to be called a Cato robot.

by David C on Sep 21, 2010 8:55 pm • linkreport

@David C: And why do you keep trying to tie me to Cato? Is that a guilt by association thing?

I think there are certainly some people who always assume that market mechanisms will work better than letting government make the public policy decisions, and don't let the facts of the particular case influence their conclusions. I'm not taking sides here, but that's what I think when I hear "Cato". It's not that they aren't sometimes right. It's that they always have the same opinion, regardless of the situation.

by David desJardins on Sep 21, 2010 9:05 pm • linkreport

P.S. Auctioning slots isn't going to happen because the incumbents have political influence and will prevent it. Whether it would be a good or bad policy is pretty much moot.

by David desJardins on Sep 21, 2010 9:06 pm • linkreport

@ David - The way past that log jam is to give everyone with a current landing slot a "tradeable landing slot" and then let them sell them in the market. Same efficient result, just no revenue to government (since that ship has sailed).

by ah on Sep 21, 2010 11:11 pm • linkreport

About 3% of IAD pax will be riding the toy train to get there, if the airports authority is lucky. Most of the Fairfax/Loudoun/Montgy County customer base will still be driving. It won't make a big difference on who uses the airport vs. DCA. Plus, if it's actually operating before 2019, I'll be surprised.

But with the projected capital cost of getting Thomas, Annie, and Clarabelle to Dulles now approaching $4 billion, MWAA is going to do all it can to get people to favor the airport - but that will be in the 2020s, so we'll have plenty of time to keep debating this.

by David on Sep 22, 2010 7:31 am • linkreport

A recent WaPo article on the subject of airport slots "With Airport Slots, time is money. Their time, your money."

by David C on Oct 10, 2010 9:46 pm • linkreport

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