WASHINGTON – Area officials Thursday told a Senate subcommittee chairman they were concerned about his proposal to allow longer, direct flights into Washington National Airport.
“The balance and profitability will shift,” said Leo Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force. He said Dulles International Airport would lose transcontinental flights – which generate greater profits for airlines – to National.
A “perimeter rule” now prohibits direct flights of more than 1,250 miles from landing at National. There is no such restriction at Dulles.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, expressed a different view. He called the rule another example of Congress micro-managing the airport.
“Airlines ought to be able to fly wherever they want as long as the slots are available,” he said. “The marketplace should decide demand.”
The exchange came during consideration of McCain’s proposals to abolish a congressional review board from Washington National and Dulles International airports and lift the long-distance flight restrictions at National.
McCain’s bill would also abolish free parking for members of Congress at Washington National Airport.
“It makes no sense,” McCain said of the parking. “It’s a perk that most Americans resent enormously.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told McCain she supported his plan to grant more local authority to the airports. Local residents are now excluded from the decision-making process, she said.
Other area officials and residents also supported McCain’s proposal to abolish the congressional review board, which monitors key decisions of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority.
Two other bills have been introduced in the Senate to abolish congressional control of the two airports, one sponsored by Mikulski, the other by Virginia Sens. Charles Robb, a Democrat, and John Warner, a Republican. A vote is expected next week in McCain’s subcommittee to reconcile the three bills.
Another bill is pending in the House.
National and Dulles are the only two airports in the country where Congress has oversight. Dulles now handles 306 flights a day; National, 681.
Since 1986, the airports have been run by the independent airport authority, subject to review by the congressional oversight board. The authority’s powers run out in March.
Local residents have twice filed suits to remove congressional oversight. In 1991 the Supreme Court found the oversight to be unconstitutional and in 1994 it reaffirmed that decision.