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Near collision at Reagan Airport renews debate over control of air traffic to the nation’s capital

Vaseline 2 months ago

(The Center Square) – A near collision at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has lawmakers and advocacy groups once again at odds over existing laws governing the airport.

Two planes preparing to take off at the airport on Thursday came within 300 feet of impact, misdirected by air traffic control. Control noticed the planes’ paths crossing and shouted for them to stop where they were.

“We are stopping. We were cleared to cross runway four,” said the pilot of the Southwest plane. The JetBlue plane, which had been cleared for takeoff, also came to a stop.

The near miss quickly became fodder for the decades-long conversation about changing the existing laws governing Reagan Airport — namely the slot and perimeter rules — and opening it up to more flights.

“Today’s near-crash at DCA is a horrific example of why it is critical that we push back on efforts to undermine the slot and perimeter rules for our capital region airports. DCA’s congested runway is already the busiest in the country – and we fear adding more flights could seriously jeopardize passenger safety,” said Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner in a joint statement.

DCA’s perimeter rule, established in 1966, prohibits nonstop flights to and from the airport greater than 1,200 miles, with the exception of flights to some major western cities such as Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The rule was put in place to encourage travel at the then-new Dulles International Airport, or IAD, according to the American Action Forum, effectively making it a short-haul airport and IAD a long-haul airport. DCA is the only airport in the country with a federally imposed perimeter rule that “artificially restricts air traffic,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the Capital Access Alliance.

The final rule came three years later, in 1969, limiting the number of permitted arrivals and departures at DCA per hour.

The Alliance claims that existing rules only contribute to making travel to Washington less accessible and more expensive. The organization also said in a statement that politicians were exploiting Thursday’s incident, pointing out that similar incidents have occurred at other airports without comment from lawmakers.

“It is ironic that the same members of Congress who are trying to exploit yesterday’s incident at DCA have remained silent when numerous similar incidents have occurred across the country, including at Dulles in 2018 and at many other airports such as San Francisco , BWI, Boston and San Diego. In fact, they have repeatedly called for the expansion of more flights at Dulles to meet growing demand,” Walsh said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, The Washington Post reported.