- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Support in Congress for more long-distance flights out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is weakening as legislators prepare to vote on the issue.

The original legislation proposed last week in the House would add slots for 24 long-distance flights at Reagan Airport. The Senate version of the bill would have added 12 slots.

The airport now has 12 slots for long-distance flights. A slot represents either a takeoff or a landing.

Opposition from local members of Congress concerned about airplane noise and congestion persuaded the Senate to drop its plans for more long-distance flights.

The House is reducing its proposal, from 24 flights to 18, in the bill scheduled to undergo final changes today before a vote by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The flight plans are part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bills.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said he reached an agreement with the Senate leadership yesterday to eliminate provisions for additional long-distance flights.

“The proposed federal intrusion ignores the will and sentiments of local citizens and the duly appointed and responsible airports authority,” Mr. Allen said in a statement announcing the agreement, referring to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The airports authority manages Reagan and Washington Dulles International airports.

Long-distance flights are trips that land outside a 1,250-mile perimeter from Reagan Airport. Typically, they require larger airplanes than the ones used for regional flights to airports such as Charlotte, N.C.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Knoxville, Tenn.

About 720 flights per day operate out of the airport, which is often is used by members of Congress because of its proximity to Capitol Hill.

Airports authority officials said more flights at Reagan Airport would disrupt a growth plan they have followed since the mid-1980s.

Before 2000, long-haul flights were not allowed there. The restrictions were intended to direct the biggest airplanes and most flights to Dulles, where its suburban location created fewer noise and space problems.

Supporters of additional flights say they would bring more business to the airport and local economy while making downtown Washington more accessible for travelers.

Among proponents of the extra flights is Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee.

He said he is disappointed that the Senate is dropping plans for more long-distance flights, a decision he said could lead to “price gouging and limited choices for the consumer.”

After negotiating with other members of the House, he agreed to drop his proposal, from 24 to 18 slots, for long-distance flights.

He described not adding flights at Reagan Airport as unwise.

“I think that hurts the economy,” he said.

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