WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing titled Oversight of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Reagan Washington National Airport and the Perimeter Rule.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C—The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) operates two of the country’s most successful airports – Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. These facilities have been essential to the development of Northern Virginia as one of this country’s high-technology centers. I am proud to have played a central role in the development of Dulles. When some were opposed to providing bonding authority to support its infrastructure needs, my support helped move this effort forward.
I have always supported Dulles. At the time of its creation, National was the region’s primary airport because of its proximity to Washington, DC. As part of the effort to promote Dulles, we instituted the perimeter rule at National Airport barring long-haul flights from the airport. This decision drove those flights to Dulles. The growth of Dulles has benefitted my constituents. Four West Virginia communities have direct access to Dulles and therefore, direct access to the world. Dulles is also the airport of choice for many West Virginians who live in the Eastern Panhandle.
Over the last 30 years we have seen enormous change in our aviation industry – some good and some of it bad. Most importantly, airline travel is dramatically safer. Millions more people now have access to affordable air travel, low-cost carriers have emerged, and airports have benefited from federal infrastructure investment. But, economic instability in the airline industry has cost many small and rural communities needed air service, including in my state. Airline employees have seen their wages and benefits slashed, and air travel – once very glamorous – is often an ordeal.
As the industry has changed, so has federal aviation policy. I firmly believe the U.S. must maintain the safest and most efficient aviation system in the world. It is essential to our global competitiveness. I am proud to say that the FAA bill that I, Senators Hutchison and Dorgan developed and the Senate passed 93-0, makes those critical policy adjustments. Our bill includes a number of vital safety provisions, places a premium on the development of the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System, improves access to the air transportation network for small and rural communities, and improves FAA management.
However, all of this progress is currently threatened by proposed small and incremental changes to the rules that govern flight operations at National Airport. No one understands or appreciates these issues better than I do. For the past decade and three FAA authorization bills, Congress has struggled with this issue. In each of the last two FAA reauthorizations enacted into law, Congress relaxed the prohibition on long-haul flights into National Airport. As we sought to reach a compromise with the House on the FAA bill, Committee leadership developed what I believe is a fair compromise that permits a limited number of flights beyond the perimeter. The compromise sought to address local concerns.
Today’s hearing will allow us to review these matters and move forward on getting this bill enacted into law. We all have to recognize that the world has changed since the original agreement the federal government signed with MWAA in 1986. We must deal with this reality – and the reality is this:
- Dulles is one of the nation’s largest and most successful international airports.
- Northern Virginia is one of the nation’s most economically successful regions generating its own demand for air travel.
- Aircraft are substantially quieter than they were 25 years ago, greatly mitigating noise issues.
- This country’s population has shifted to the West and most people beyond an artificial and arbitrary line have no direct access to National Airport.
Now, I want to say here today that I know that local officials will argue that it is not fair to change the rules governing the airports – but that it a false argument. This is an industry whose only constant is change. Airline deregulation changed the rules on West Virginians and millions of others from rural states. Airline bankruptcy changed rules for the employees. And, economic globalization is changing it all over again. The fact is that the proposed 16 flight conversions will not change the dynamic at two airports who serve tens of millions of people.
I want to say to our witnesses and the members here today - we must push to resolve the matter of National Airport slots or it will threaten future FAA Reauthorizations. That is absolutely unacceptable to me at any time, but especially in a time when our economy could benefit greatly by passing this bill. I will continue to fight for passage of this important bill.
Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
STATEMENT OF SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
HEARING ON OVERSIGHT OF MWAA AND DCA PERIMETER RULE
SEPTEMBER 16, 2010
Senator Dorgan, thank you for convening today’s hearing on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the existing perimeter rule at Reagan National Airport.
The Senate passed its FAA Reauthorization bill on March 22, 2010, by an overwhelming vote of 93:0. After five months of extremely difficult negotiations with the House and three plus years of short-term extensions, we are at a crucial point in the process. For the sake of the air traveling public, this is a time for reason and compromise, not objection.
The differences between the House and Senate passed FAA bills were stark and several highly controversial items were contained in the House bill. We have done our best to address those issues and I commend Senator Dorgan, and Chairman Rockefeller for their leadership in helping craft a very reasonable compromise.
Unfortunately, one of the issues we still find ourselves at odds over is the DCA perimeter rule. I, for one, can certainly appreciate the nuances and difficulty in dealing with airport perimeter regulations, as I spent several years dealing with the ‘Wright’ Amendment.
However, I cannot fathom the level of objection to a compromise provision that in essence only adds five ‘new’ flights to an airport that the Government Accountability Office has indicated has the capacity to handle more traffic in an effort to supposedly protect the special interest of one of the largest airports in the United States—and one that already handles far more passengers annually than Reagan National.
When we started debate on this issue, several members of this Committee and the Senate simply wanted to repeal the DCA perimeter rule. Through Senate floor discussion and verbal commitment, we agreed to move forward in an effort to find a reasonable solution, knowing passage of the underlying FAA Reauthorization was extremely important to improving aviation safety and air traffic control modernization.
Following that process, we crafted a compromise provision, heavily weighing the wishes of both those who wanted full repeal and those who wanted the status quo.
The compromise comes down to two concepts: a small number of new flights and conversion flights.
Based on GAO’s clear description that DCA can accommodate additional capacity we adopted a proposal that would add five ‘new’ flights that would be set aside for new and limited incumbent carriers. These ‘new’ beyond the perimeter flights would not only add access, but also competition.
Then, based on the wishes of those wanting to limit the expansion of the airport, we crafted a proposal to allow incumbent carriers at DCA to ‘convert’ a total of 16 existing within-the-perimeter flights to flights beyond the perimeter. By allowing for ‘conversions’, the proposal negates the need for additional ‘new’ flights and allows carriers to better utilize their networks. To provide additional comfort with the concept, we also phased the provision in over a two year period.
Knowing the sensitivity to the issue, we also included several additional criteria on the ‘conversion’ flights, including:
Evaluation and annual reporting by the Secretary of Transportation ensuring the changes are in the public interest.
Only existing within-the-perimeter flights from large hub airports could be converted, ensuring small community air service.
Flights cannot be sold, traded or leased.
Exemptions may not be operated with wide-body aircraft, limiting aircraft size to address noise concerns.
MWAA is provided the ability to revenue share between DCA and Dulles, providing financial stability and equal footing with other airport authorities.
Surprisingly, this compromise proposal is somehow not enough. Quite frankly, I find this hard to believe and unacceptable, especially since the entire FAA Reauthorization bill hangs in the balance.
We have put forth a modest proposal that increases carrier flexibility, competition, travel options, protects small communities, is in a market that has demand, at an airport that has additional capacity, without significantly impacting other surrounding airports. If that isn’t compromise, then I don’t know what is.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Susan KurlandAssistant Secretary for Aviation and International AffairsU.S. Department of Transportation
Mr. Michael J. SammartinoDirector of System Operations, AJR-1Federal Aviation Administration
Mr. Lee R. KairAssistant Administrator for Security OperationsTransportation Security Administration
The Honorable Charles Darwin SnellingChairman of the BoardMetropolitan Washington Airports Authority
Ms. E. Lynn HamptonPresident and Chief Executive Officer, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority