Reagan National could service West Coast

GW students from the West Coast may soon be able to fly home from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport instead of departing from two other D.C. area airports that are farther from the city.

Legislation approved Thursday by the Senate Commerce Committee could add 24 new takeoff and landing slots between 7 a.m. and 9:59 p.m. to Reagan National.

The bill also would change the 1,250-mile flight limit at Reagan National by allowing 12 of the slots to involve “long-haul” flights – which could mean more flights to West Coast cities.

Flights into D.C. from the western United States now land at Dulles Airport in Virginia or Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland.

But the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles, wants to limit growth at Reagan National and encourage Dulles’ expansion, said Tara Hamilton, public affairs manager for the MWAA.

Separate legislation pending in the House of Representatives could add six new takeoff and landing slots, but would not extend the 1,250-mile radius.

Hamilton said if an increase was passed, the MWAA supports adding six rather than 24 flights.

Reagan National serves 16 million passengers annually, Hamilton said. The recently-opened $450 million terminal was designed without plans for increased airport traffic.

But a recent George Mason University study estimated 1.5 million more passengers will pass through Reagan National if the 1,250-mile rule is dropped. The study also said Dulles could lose as many as 3 million passengers a year, and up to nine international destinations.

The increased number of flights at Reagan National also would mean more noise for residents along the airport’s flight paths.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater would be required to monitor noise and pollution levels, according to a Senate press release.

But Montgomery County Council member Betty Ann Krahnke (R-Potomac/Bethesda) heads an aircraft noise regional panel that opposes the legislation.

“Adding flights will upset the economic balance of the area,” she said. “For Congress now to be stepping in is inappropriate.”

The legislation stands a good chance of passing despite heavy opposition from local government officials because Reagan National’s restrictions directly affect lawmakers’ travel habits, according to published reports.

GW students from Western states said they are happy about the possible changes, which will alleviate some travel drudgery.

“I’ll be able to go home without going to another airport to change flights,” said Brittany Whiting, a senior from Las Vegas.

“It should take six hours to get home, but with changing flights, it takes 14. It will save me a lot of time,” Laura Ware, a senior from San Francisco.

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