- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Congress took another step yesterday toward adding flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but local lawmakers are optimistic they can ground the plan before it becomes law.

The House Transportation Committee passed a compromise measure that would add 20 takeoff or landing slots. Twelve of those would be for planes going beyond Reagan Airport’s traditional limit of 1,250 miles, allowing more direct flights to the West.

The compromise cuts the number of slots from the 36 originally proposed.

“The only thing I’m happy with is we’re not at 36,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, who had offered an amendment to strike the proposal altogether, but withdrew it when she didn’t have the votes.

“It has serious implications for safety, noise and crowding,” Mrs. Norton said.

She also warned the move could hurt struggling airlines as well as divert traffic from Washington Dulles International Airport, designed to handle the longer flights.

“Any change in slots micromanages a regional airport,” Mrs. Norton said. “We’re not through yet. We’re going to drive this down.”

Once the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which carries the provision affecting Reagan Airport, passes the full House and Senate, it goes to a conference committee.

In 1966, flights to and from the airport were limited by act of Congress to a maximum of 650 miles. Congress extended it to 1,000 miles in 1981 and 1,250 miles in 1986, just before direct federal control of the airport was relinquished, and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority was created.

In 2000, Congress authorized 12 slots for flights beyond the 1,250 mile limit.

There are about 62 flights an hour at Reagan Airport.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, whose district includes the airport, said he is optimistic that when it gets to conference committee, the number will be cut even more.

The Senate version adds no flights to Reagan Airport.

Adding flights to Reagan Airport could benefit members of Congress looking for convenient transportation home.

“If the members of Congress were as self-centered as they are too often portrayed, they would fill up [Reagan Airport] with slots that would take them back to their districts,” said Mr. Moran, whose constituents worry about additional plane noise.

The committee also passed an amendment saying the airport should be reopened to private planes as soon as possible.

Reagan Airport was the last of the major U.S. airports to reopen after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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