- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

America West Airlines was the big winner yesterday in the sweepstakes for the 24 new landing and departure slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The Arizona-based airline, located in the home state of Republican Sen. John McCain, won two flights to its Phoenix headquarters and one to Las Vegas, or six total slots. Half of the 24 new slots will be for flights beyond Reagan National's old 1,250-mile perimeter, a provision that the Senate Transportation Committee chairman had pushed hard for.
The 24 slots create 12 new flights because a slot can be an arrival or a departure. Each slot is worth between $750,000 and $4 million annually to an airline, depending on the destination, according to analysts.
Seven other airlines with little or no service from Reagan National won the rest of the slots, U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said yesterday.
"These new services will improve access to the nation's capital for additional communities and connect passengers to more U.S. cities," Mr. Slater said in a statement yesterday.
Congress approved the additional slots and the flights beyond the airport's perimeter in mid-March as part of the $40 billion Federal Aviation Administration funding bill. President Clinton signed the legislation.
Reagan National's perimeter limit which goes as far as the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and slot restrictions were created in the late 1960s when commercial aviation took off.
The airport had become congested and developing neighborhoods nearby complained about the planes' noise, so the perimeter was established to limit traffic and noise.
The additional flights make up less than 1 percent of the 3,000 daily arrivals and departures at the region's three main airports. But business in the busy Washington area is lucrative, particularly flights to major hubs like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas.
The Transportation Department gave one of those major flights to Trans World Airlines (TWA), which will have a new flight to Los Angeles. Of the airlines that won the extra slots, TWA has the biggest current presence at Reagan National with seven daily departures.
Robert Milmore, airline and travel analyst with Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder in New York, said any airline would want the slots to expand its network.
He said the airlines that won beyond-perimeter slots are particularly lucky, because "they can bring a lot of their feed traffic into their hubs this way, and then they can fly the long-haul flights to Washington, like TWA will be doing with Los Angeles."
The new airlines at Reagan National include low-fare Denver-based Frontier Airlines; Eastpointe, Mich.-based Spirit Airlines; and Las Vegas-based startup National Airlines.
Frontier and National both won flights to their hometowns. Spirit won one to either Myrtle Beach, S.C., or Melbourne, Fla., and one to one of those or West Palm Beach, Fla., Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, Fla., or Fort Myers, Fla.
American Trans Air of Indianapolis will have two flights serving Chicago's Midway Airport. Midway Airlines of Morrisville, N.C., won one to Raleigh/Durham, N.C., and Midwest Express Airlines of Oak Creek, Wis., got another to Des Moines, Iowa.
Midway's and Midwest's extra flights were added to their current six daily flights from Reagan National. America West's new flights complement its current two daily departures to Columbus, Ohio.
Although the flights are expected to start later in the summer, exact dates are up to each airline, said Tara Hamilton, spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority, which runs Reagan National and Washington Dulles International Airport.
Although the Transportation agency and airline analysts say consumers will benefit from the new flights, community groups and politicians in Virginia have long expressed opposition to any expansion at the airport.
For example, while the FAA funding bill was being reviewed last year, Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, introduced a bill calling for the number of additional flights to be at least reduced to half.
"There is always some politics involved … especially with airports in D.C.," Mr. Milmore said.
The lobbying over the new flights during the last year was particularly heavy. Friends and foes of the new slots wrote letters and bought full-page newspaper advertisements, and politicians made personal requests to Mr. Slater to be sympathetic to small carriers from their home states.
The airlines that won the inside-the-perimeter slots were chosen among 11 applicants that sought 30 new flights in total.
Interest in the slots was so great that 20 applicants requested 104 new flights, some of which were beyond the current distance limit.

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