Why increased flights at Ronald Reagan National Airport will benefit Missouri

At first glance, the operations of an airport thousands of miles away might seem irrelevant to Missouri. Yet, a federal regulation at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) directly impacts us here in the Show-Me state.

Currently, DCA is the subject of a legislative debate about the “perimeter rule,” a federal policy that governs the airport and limits the number of flights beyond an artificial 1,250-mile radius with few daily exceptions.

It is time that the perimeter rule reflects today’s modern needs. Given the reach of its impact, Washington, D.C., is a critical destination that requires affordable access to every consumer.

This rule places Congress in the driver’s seat of airport operations, impeding the free market and favoring certain airlines over others. This has caused inflated ticket prices to and from Washington, D.C., making it the most expensive metropolitan region in the country for air travel.

The need for affordable travel to the nation’s capital spans a wide demographic – from students on educational trips to professionals engaging with federal agencies and representatives.

The exorbitantly high airline ticket prices are hurting tourism and business travel, affecting not just those wanting to visit our nation’s capital but also those from the East Coast who might want to visit the Show-Me state. This lack of accessibility can be traced back to the antiquated regulatory constraints at DCA that have not kept pace with technological progress and population booms.

Aviation experts have weighed in and agree that more flights are necessary and are achievable. Michael Huerta, a former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator, highlighted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed the FAA’s own data that showed underutilized times slots at DCA when additional flights could be accommodated safely and efficiently.

This potential for expansion is further supported by DCA’s recent infrastructure upgrades.

In 2021, the airport completed a significant $1 billion terminal expansion, adding a new 14-gate concourse and two 50,000-square-foot security checkpoint, all designed to accommodate a larger volume of passengers.

These improvements have not only enhanced the passenger experience but have also contributed to the airport’s operational efficiency, with DCA being recognized as one of the top five most on-time airports in North America. Such advancements underscore the airport’s readiness to handle an increase in flight activity.

The FAA Reauthorization bill offers a timely opportunity to modernize the perimeter rule. A proposed bipartisan amendment within the bill would add a modest number of beyond- and in- perimeter flights without affecting existing services.

The U.S. Senate has until March to pass the FAA Reauthorization bill, and doing so would introduce more competition into the Washington, D.C., air travel market, lower airfare and improve accessibility for travelers.

As Missourians, it’s in our interest to advocate for policies that better our economic well-being.

I applaud Senator Eric Schmitt for supporting additional flights at DCA and standing up for Missouri consumers and free-market principles in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. As the FAA Reauthorization Bill moves through the Senate, Senators Josh Hawley and Schmitt should support expanding flight options to ensure Missourians have affordable access to Washington, D.C.

This pro-free market proposal would not only benefit consumers but also strengthen the connectivity between Missouri and our nation’s capital, support business growth and offer more educational opportunities to students.

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