The DCA Slots Initiative
The GM at Washington National's FBO calls for including business aviation in legislative proposals
BY Bryan Burns, General Manager, Signature Flight Support
It's been well over a year since Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) drafted legislation proposing to add 48 daily slots to increase access for niche carriers and others offering scheduled service to underserved communities to/from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). However, none of those critical slot reservations are being offered or extended to general aviation. (By the way, the new slots can only be used by aircraft that meet Stage 3 standard — a perfect fit for the GA industry.)
To date, the issue
is unresolved. The bill was intended to selectively lift the airline perimeter
rule, which bars nonstop flights longer than 1,250 miles to/from DCA.
However, the U.S. Department of Transportation would grant exemptions
to carriers proposing to serve points beyond the perimeter if such operations
would provide ...
1) air transportation service with domestic network benefits in areas beyond the perimeter;
2) increase competition in multiple markets;
3) not reduce travel options for communities served by small hub airports and medium hub airports within the perimeter; and
4) not result in meaningfully increased traffic delays. Nonetheless, within the perimeter rule, exemptions would be granted to commuter air carriers for service to airports with fewer than 2 million enplanements.
The Current Situation
One of the "unintended consequences" of the high-density rule was to prohibit competition or bar service in certain markets. This occurred because the major airlines would come to use their slots at DCA for their most profitable routes.
Earlier this year, Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary for DOT stated, "Slot controls and the Washington Reagan perimiter rule no longer are required for both safety and operational control reasons. They do impact prices. They reduce competition. The real issue becomes matters involving noise and local development. The slot and perimeter rules have outlived their original intent."
Today, the allocation
of slots (per hour) at DCA are as follows:
• Scheduled air carriers: 37
• Commuters/regionals: 11
• General aviation/military/others: 12
For over 30 years, this 60 per hour slot program has been in effect — and the distribution of slots has remained the same.
As to the safety and operational control concerns, Air Traffic Control at DCA has been consistently voted the #2 best tower in the U.S. for several years based on that exact criteria.
A federal intrusion ?
Sen. McCain's measure has gotten the attention of many Senators, state officials, and local authorities because it is another example of using federal legislation to address what is essentially a local or regional issue. The same federal government concerns apply to the other three slot-controlled airports — O'Hare, LaGuardia, and JFK. I trust local authorities in Chicago and New York are or will be waging their own battle for or against the way slots will be administered there as well.
On a local level, it is no secret that the nearby residents perceived additional slots as more noise. (You and I both know the truth to that story.) There have been numerous debates among our trade associations as to whether corporate/business aviation should even fight this battle. As with many politically sensitive issues, the fear of losing the war is a strong possibility.
Recently, it was suggested that the additional slots be reduced to 12 daily commuter and 12 daily long-haul slots. This was part of a tentative compromise with Sen. John Warner (R-VA), whose Virginia constituents would relate less frequency with less noise.
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