Congress faces a Friday deadline to pass Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) legislation that would direct aviation policy for the next five years.

Among the issues under negotiation by lawmakers and airline industry stakeholders is whether or not to add flights to Reagan National Airport (DCA). A current compromise would allow for just five additional flights into and out of Reagan each day.

Most consumers are unaware that the lack of choice for domestic flights across the country is a matter of federal regulation, not a calculation made by airlines. In 1966, what’s known as the “perimeter rule” was enacted to limit Reagan flights to a 650-mile radius. The rule was enacted to encourage consumers to make use of the newly established Dulles International Airport (IAD) and relieve the D.C. area of noise pollution and traffic associated with Reagan. The perimeter was expanded in 1981 to 1,000 miles, and again in 1986 to the present 1,250-mile perimeter, which goes hand-in-hand with the “slot rule” which limited DCA to 60 flights beyond the perimeter departing each hour.

“Consumers everywhere should be asking themselves why Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. are being forced to operate like it’s 1986. The needs of travelers have changed dramatically, as has the technical capacity of D.C. area airports that serve them. We’d like to see the perimeter rule dissolved altogether, but if five extra flights for DCA is what allows Congress to keep the skies open for business, then that will have to do for now. Zero expansion is unacceptable,” Stephen Kent, media director of the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said.

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