McCain Wants You to Be Able to Fly to Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia From Anywhere in the US

DCA - Washington/National, Government Regulation, LGA - New York/La Guardia

Let’s say you’re John McCain. You’ve finally had a couple months to relax after a very long and taxing presidential campaign. Now it’s time to head back to the Senate and use your influence to really help the country, right? Uh, well, sort of. McCain is back, but he’s not pushing out bills on the most pressing issues of the day. Instead, one of his first acts back on the Hill was to introduce the Abolishing Aviation Barriers Act to eliminate the perimeter rules at Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia airports.

While the perimeter rules may not be the highest on the list of national priorities, I am fully behind this legislation. I wrote a full post on the perimeter rules awhile ago, and you can read that for a full refresher. But in short, there is an imaginary circle drawn around National and LaGuardia, and airlines can’t fly nonstop beyond those points. Here’s a map to help the visual folks here.

Perimeter Rule

Airlines can’t fly nonstop from LaGuardia to anywhere west of the red line or from National to anywhere west of the blue line. It’s not on the map, but Denver got itself an exemption for LaGuardia flights awhile back, and there were a few exemptions that McCain pushed through for National flights beyond the perimeter as well. The National exemptions of course greatly benefited his constituent carrier, America West, which walked away with half the exemptions to fly back to Phoenix and Vegas. America West is now US Airways, and they have a bunch of slots at National and LaGuardia that they’d love to use to fly beyond the perimeter. McCain is clearly trying to treat his home airline well here.

Let’s be honest. These rules are dumb. They were initially instituted back in the day when newer, further airports were being built at JFK and Dulles and they wanted to phase out the use of National and LaGuardia. Instead of shutting them down (Congress couldn’t let go of an airport that’s so close for their own purposes), they slapped these rules on. The rules have changed over the years, but looking at it now, it just seems silly. I mean, there is absolutely no reason for these rules to exist anymore. If it’s a safety issue, then close down the airport. If not, let airlines fly where demand takes them. Everyone will be better off. It’s not like it would increase the amount of traffic. Airlines would simply turn in their flights to Akron and fly to LA instead. Seems smart to me.

The bill is a very simple one. So simple that I’ll just past it here. It’s Senate bill 36.


To repeal the perimeter rule for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Abolishing Aviation Barriers Act of 2009′.


(a) In General- Chapter 449 of title 49, United States Code, is amended by striking section 49109.

(b) Clerical Amendment- The chapter analysis for chapter 449 of title 49, United States Code, is amended by striking the item relating to section 49109 and inserting the following:

`44901. Repealed.’.


Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be obligated or expended after the date of enactment of this Act to enforce the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey rule banning flights beyond 1,500 miles (or any other flight distance related restriction), from arrival or departure at New York LaGuardia Airport.

So it wouldn’t really end the rule in New York, but it would no longer allow federal funds to dictate where airplanes fly from the airport. And I have to think that the Port Authority would like these longer haul flights since they’ll probably replace prop planes which serve fewer passengers.

Oh, and Section 44901? It states:

An air carrier may not operate an aircraft nonstop in air transportation between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and another airport that is more than 1,250 statute miles away from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Despite the fact that this is of very little to no national importance, I hope we see it pass.

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44 comments on “McCain Wants You to Be Able to Fly to Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia From Anywhere in the US

  1. The perimeter rules are antiquainted and anti-competitive, just like to Wright ammendment is. All should repealed ASAP.

  2. As long as the runway is long enough and the plane can fly far enough, let the free market and slot controls dictate the service network.

    CAN a 757 make it safely off the runway at DCA and carry a full load to SEA or SAN?

  3. What happens to all the senators and people in Congress who want to fly from DCA to their home cities in the mid-West and east coast and are worried that their flights will be replaced by those to LA ?

  4. Optimist – Alaska flies a daily 737 between DC and both LA and Seattle as part of the exemptions right now, so there’s no question it can be done.

  5. Forgot to add…. could we now see British Airways moving their new A319 route from London City (via Shannon – hence US preclearance) to visit La Guardia instead of JFK ?

  6. David – I would be surprised to see cities completely lose service out of this. Maybe US Airways cuts a couple of the 9 flights to Charlotte or United pulls back a couple of their near hourly flights to Chicago. Even better, maybe Portland Maine or Burlington Vermont loses one of its three daily flights. Believe me, airlines are relatively politically smart, so I would be very surprised to see them cross a congressman.

    Also, about the BA flight from London/City, that’s a very interesting point. I suppose we could see that happen as long as they do get customs done in Ireland. (I believe they said it would happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.) That would be VERY compelling.

  7. How about flying south. Is there a limitation as to how far they can fly. Can they fly to say Aruba or St. Maarten from LGA and DCA

  8. Now THAT is a sexy topic! Pre-cleared overseas flights in to National.

    CF – Not sure what the operating differences (primarily the power to weight ratio) would be between the 737 and the 757 in terms of runway length. Who knows….the 737 may actually need more runway than the larger bird.

    For a real thrill ride, take a look on YouTube and search for take off videos of the IL-76 out of Australia. Anyone who’s seen it knows what I mean!

  9. Dan – There are no customs and immigrations facilities, so flights are limited to the US or Canada when precleared. Ireland might end up allowing for that as well.

    Optimist – The 757 can do it with ease. American flew Orange County to JFK in a 757 for awhile and that runway is 1,000 feet shorter than National. The 757 is like a sports car – that thing has incredible performance.

  10. David,

    What about senators and congress-people from, say, San Francisco, who right now don’t have flights to their home cities and have to connect or fly from IAD or BWI while those in small east coast and mid-west cities with more frequent service than their market really demands get to fly nonstop?

    If a market can support nonstop service from DCA, great. If not, why should the fact that a senator or congressperson would like a flight make a difference on whether or not a market is served?

  11. My opinion is that cities like Denver did the right thing in shutting down their old airport once the new one was built. While perimeter rules may seem “dumb” today they were necessary to establish airports like JFK and IAD, even DFW. In the 1960’s would anyone have flown to Dulles over National given the choice? Would the response be any different today? I doubt it.

    Repealing this will only cause hopeless crowding at the older and smaller airports. I don’t agree with the unfair advantage the “closer” airport has, thus why I think Denver did the right thing in shutting Stapleton down. How you do the same to LaGuardia and National today I don’t know, but sure would’ve been nice had they done that originally.

  12. David M – there are a lot more states east of the red / blue line than to the west. If each state has 2 senators…. that means far more senators currently have potential service home from DCA than don’t. Further, there’s a lot more of the US population to the east of the 2 lines, hence far more representatives in the House. It all adds up to more people in Congress who might worry about losing or having a degraded service than those who have no current flights at all.

    Of course it’s not fair that airlines act in the personal interests of the political masters – but every airline knows that with the economy in trouble, there may well be a time when they may need support for a bail-out from friendly people in Congress. Annoy too much of Congress and the clauses in that future transportation bill suddenly get worded in a much less friendly manner.

  13. A – Tempelhof airport was in the centre of Berlin. When the city Govt tried to close it down (they succeeded in the end), there was a LOT of fuss made about it.

  14. Sounds like a silly law, but other airport restrictions like the Wright Amendment should be included as well, not just these two airports.

  15. A – The chances of National and LaGuardia being shut down are slim to none, especially if 9/11 didn’t cause it to happen. But don’t think this will mean a big shift of flights from Dulles and JFK. They will remain slot restricted, so no new flights can be added. It’s just that existing flights can be moved to different destinations.

    Now, you ask if the response would be different from airlines today than in the 60’s and you say no, but I couldn’t disagree more. The number of people living in suburban Virginia has exploded, and there is a huge group of people who find Dulles more convenient. I would be surprised to see a big impact on Dulles. As for LaGuardia, all airports are operating full (or more than full) in New York right now. There’s a need for all these airports and more.

    Harold – I agree completely. The slow phaseout of the Wright Amendment is ridiculous, and it should just go away now. But I guess McCain isn’t interested, or maybe it’s not politically acceptable.

  16. A – NYC was wise (and doubtlessly politically manipulated) in to keeping LGA open. Imagine the mess today if it had been closed and left only JFK to serve the city. Yikes!

    IAD was a huge white elephant when it first opened. It’s only advantage was having runways long enough for transcon and overseas flights. As they Tech Corridor from Tysons to Leesburg developed and housing moved in that direction, Dulles found itself with a built-in and affluent base, one that is generally loathe to fly out if DCA due to the traffic.

    DFW was similar to IAD in the beginning. Ft. Worth wasn’t big enough to support an airport that size and no one in Dallas wanted to drive that far west. Today the entire Mid-Cities area from Arlington to Lewisville is developed to the point of saturation. The 121 Tollroad feeds directly in to DFW for several large corporations HDQ’d north of Dallas such as EDS, Blockbuster, JC Penney and Dr. Pepper/7-Up. It’s a straight highway shot to an international airport compared to the drive in to Dallas and surface roads to Love Field where Southwest holds court.

    I support ending the Wright Amendment but you can bet in this economy American will fight to the death to keep it. They won’t get anything out of it except greater competition.

  17. International Cities with Old and New Airports Running:
    BKK – Don Guang and
    NRT – Haneda and Narita
    LON – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City
    PAR – Orly and Charles de Gaulle
    MIL – Malpensa and Linate
    MOW – Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo
    SAO – Guarulhos and Congonhas
    RIO – Galeao and Santos Dumont
    BUE – Ezeiza and Jorge Newberry
    SHA – Pudong and Hongqiao

    Huge metropolitan areas all, with significant local, regional, continental and international demands. Closing one will not necessarily make things better for the newer facility – it may actually make things worse (LHR). One wonders how Mexico City manages to function on just two runways!

  18. Why don’t they regulate something useful, like how many flights can take off, land or fly through airspace?

  19. There is SOME logic to doing things this way. The reason is that the land and the number of slots at these close in airports is highly restricted. So every flight pushes another flight out of the way.

    Though I know the original reasons probably had more to do with diverting traffic to the larger airports then being built like IAD and JFK, there’s something to be said for the idea that shorter flights benefit from being closer in. Meaning if you’re flying to LAX from NYC you’re going to be on the plane for 5-6 hours. Going a little further to JFK is proportionally not that big of a deal. But if you’re flying to DCA from NYC then it’s a huge deal.

    You’d have to assume that for DCA and LGA you’d lose a tremendous amount of shuttle frequency. How could you not? That’s not necessarily a good thing. These airports and airspace are public property. The government owns them, there’s no major free market argument here. If the government thinks it makes sense to restrict small in-town airports to shorter trips — because longer flights can withstand longer commutes to the airport — why argue with that.

    What’s the obvious benefit of being able to fly LGA-LAX instead of JFK-LAX? Noting that by definition at LGA you *will* lose some other flight in exchange. What’s wrong with having a regional airport and a longer-haul airport?

  20. The arguments at the time of the restrictions had more to do with two things:
    a) The newer airports could handle larger aircraft
    b) The smaller aircraft could not fly nearly as far.

    Marketing and logic took over from there. Spend an extra 45 minutes in the car for the sake of a nonstop coast-to-coast flight instead of missing your connection and getting stuck half-way across the country.

    Todays smaller aircraft have intercontinental range capabilities, changing the dynamics used to implement the restrictions. In saturated markets like New York, therefore, lifting the range restrictions makes sense.

    Cranky wrote earlier that regional vs. long-haul divisions don’t make sense. One needs the other for connecting traffic. Dulles is the classic example of that. When it first opened, I believe only four US airlines called it home: Pan Am, TWA, United and American. The first two flew the Atlantic, the latter two flew the transcons. You could count on two hands the number of flights operated there all day! It didn’t get much better until the early 80s and even included rumblings of possibly closing the thing and letting BWI have all the fun.

    Airlines generally don’t care about the commute to any airport so long as you choose their services once you get there.

  21. Optimist – some airlines do care about the commute to an airport. In London twenty years ago, anything to do with business flying happened at Heathrow. Then banks moved gradually east, and City Airport opened up. Now AF, LH and even airlines like British Airways with a fortress at Heathrow have sizeable operations at LCY. When offered 2 airports – 20 mins away or 1h20m which do you choose ?

  22. David – I live 5 minutes from DFW and 25 minutes from Love Field. AA is my carrier. I follow and agree with your argument but only from the perspective of the customer.

    Airlines historically want larger and newer airports and then very jealously fight to close the older facility they’re leaving behind (Denver is the biggest recent example of this).

    Local politics plays in to keeping the older, smaller fields open. Consider Tokyo. It’s nearly impossible to connect to any other city in the country from Narita because of traffic restrictions, field operations and curfews. Haneda does some 90-95% of that work, creating horrendous drive times (up to four hours) between the two. NRT was never intended to offer domestic options and certainly could not handle that kind of volume today.

    Even BA will tell you, given their druthers it’s far cheaper to serve one airport in a given city than not. Competition has forced them to run the operation at LCY you describe, nothing else. United tried it at Chicago but ultimate gave up splitting ops between O’Hare and Midway – too expensive and too confusing. And all with BA well remember the days of confusion between which flights left out of LGW (most of Africa and Greece) and which ones landed at LHR (much of everything else).

    In the US I’ve almost never come across an article citing an airline’s financial support of road improvements to the airport. Such measures mean increasing their operating costs at the field, a deal breaker in nearly every case. None, for example, are on record for the new Metro line from central DC to Dulles Airport. If they’re going to pay for new concrete, they want it in the form of new runways and ramp space.

    I’d say the City of Westminster forced LCY on to the scene, smaller airlines and competitors from the Continent jumped on it to tweak BA’s nose who then felt compelled to go over there and fight right back. Quite grudgingly.

  23. London and Los Angeles are in exactly the same boat. Both main airports, LHR and LAX, respectively, are pretty much at their physical limit. Both have considered or are considering new runways on their respective north sides but that still remains a stop-gap measure at best.

    To build a brand new airport that meets and exceeds future growth needs for either city one would have to take similar action to Denver.

    Except Denver HAD 15,000 acres of worthless land lying around along with a local government willing to close Stapleton.

    1) Where would an airport that size go in a case like LA or London?
    2) Would an airport like that really close the other airports in the area?


  24. For Denver’s new airport, make that 33,000 acres, 53 square miles or 140 square kilometers. Even without environmentalist, building cost or convenience concerns, that kind of open land is simply not available to London, Los Angeles, Frankfurt or other cities with major global operations and saturated urban build-up immediately around it.

  25. Slightly off-topic, but since my home airport was brought up so often. DEN actually benefits from it’s enormous land in more ways than just room to expand. The airport authority actually derives a large chunk of income from non-aviation sources such as oil/gas wells, agricultural land rental, etc. They are near completion of a 2MW solar plant to provide power for the airport and reduce expenses. All of these non-aviation activities allowed them to give $10.7 million of their share of the state aviation fuel tax to airlines earlier this year to help them cope with high fuel costs.

    Of course like others pointed out, it’s hard to get 30,000+ acres of land anywhere near a major city. Even DEN is suffering a bit with location until the East Corridor rail link is finished sometime around 2014.

  26. The perimeter rules got to go.

    Not needed, and are not fair to the west.

    Get rid of them, now!

    JFK is a PITA to fly in/out

  27. While I see the benefits to both sides of the arguenent, it is important to note that, to new yorkers like myself, LGA is seen as the domestic airport…JFK as International. In my opinion, the law in New York should be changed to allow only national and precleared canada flights. That way, there is less confusion about where to go for your flight (jet blue being an exception)

  28. As an airline pilot/ffdo….leave the reg as is. LGA and DCA are higher risk airports…the amount of fuel acft that take-off or land there should be limited for safety/terrorist reasons. next thing you know widebodys will be landing at these airports, which I think is un-safe. IN fact DCA should be closed and moved to andrews…and andrews moved elsewhere. these airports and ones like midway do not met ICAO clear zone area requirements for approaches and departures. this is why people die= air florida 737, southwest 737, usair f-28….

  29. sam – If you want to argue that the airports should be closed, that’s fine, but I have trouble with the argument for keeping only shorter haul flights there. There may be more fuel onboard for a longer flight, but the impact of a 737 whether fully loaded to go to LA or half loaded to go to Dallas is going to result in similar levels of devastation.

  30. Sam – Widebodies have been flown in to both LGA and DCA.

    Eastern successfully “tested” the A300 in to DCA but it was determined too much of a ramp hog to operate efficiently.

    The DC-10 and L-1011 both were designed specifically with LGA in mind as a way to serve more people with fewer available slots. They operated there nearly to the end of their commercial careers. DL has operated the 767-300 in to LGA from ATL, an airplane almost as big as the first two.

    May they rest in peace, the Air Florida crash was a wing-ice disaster; it had nothing to do with the size, weight or amount of fuel on the plane.

    Finally, I have no problem in closing National for security and safety reasons but you’ll have a huge fight on your hands if the government is required to find another airfield to replace Andrews. I doubt quite seriously they will share the Air Force One field with civilian or commercial aviation.

  31. Traveling optimist: I agree with your comments, except for the part that says the DC-10 and L-1011 were designed with LGA in mind. My point is these 2 airports are dangerous…or let’s say= less safe than, say denver or detroit…so I think=when disaster does strike…is it not better to have a plane with less fuel and less size go off the end of a runway with NO CLEAR zones…like regular airports have?…midway also falls under this category…in fact midway was basically abandoned for years and years….in the 70’s and early 80’s

  32. Sam – I agree about having airports with “run-off” areas at the end of runways. Sad fact is, too many fields in this country alone are surrounded by urban build-up: DAL, MDW, SAN, DCA, LGA, EWR, even SFO. Imagine one of those HKG bound 747s plowing in to the 101. There are pictures, even, of a China Air 747 going off the end of the old Kai Tak at HKG, an airport with one of the most horrendous approaches on record. Want something similar to that? Try the right-angle approach to Funchal in the Madeira Islands of Portugal, also an airport known for widebodies from Europe.

    In 1966 AA went to the plane makers wanting a widebody smaller than the 747 with medium to long haul range, could handle shorter runways, was quiet enough for local neighborhoods and leant itself to slot restrictions. Any airport at the time was a no-brainer with the exception of DCA. They meant and wanted LGA.

    Engine technology of the day dictated a tri-jet until Airbus came along with the A300 nearly a decade later. Boeing was busy with the 747 whose wingspan would never have worked. Lockheed wanted to re-enter the passenger market and whipped up the L-1011. Douglas didn’t want to lose out and whipped up the DC-10. AA and UA went Douglas, taking their first birds on the exact same day in a joint ceremony. DL and EA went Lockheed and all four ran their fleets in to LGA where they stayed until the 757 and 767 combo gradually took them out.

    I respectfully agree with Cranky in the assessment that less fuel simply means the aircraft won’t burn as long. It does not guarantee fewer victims. Using EOW alone a 757 at 127,000 pounds and making 400 knots will do major damage regardless of the fuel load on board.

  33. Sam – I do agree with you that LGA, DCA and airports like it, are the kinds of airports that make everyone clench up just a little tighter during approach and landing. Sadly, though, politics and local economies mean those airports are destined to remain open for the sake of the jobs they create if not simply their convenience to the city they serve.

    I have never heard of any effort to build a new SAN and close Lindbergh. Same as in DC with Andrews AFB, the likelihood of Miramar becoming a commercial airport is slim to none. Anyone at AA and UA both will tell you MDW and DAL should have been shut down long ago. Politics, the clout of Southwest at both fields and even local sentiment, however, means those fields will be around for quite some time.

  34. Whoa…Sam. I know we are talking US here, but if we want to talk clear zones and terrifying approaches, do not go to the Caribbean. Those runways end in coral reefs, beaches, slums, or hotels.

    As someone that lives closer to DFW and to DAL but flies WN (they actually get me home when AA likes to strand me places) I am glad to have a choice. I live on the approach to AFW, I knew that when I moved here. If a FedEx MD-11 or AA 777 takes out the neighborhood….There aren’t a lot of people living around either DAL or MDW that predate the airport.

  35. in light of the usair plane accident in lga today…I still disagree with those on this forum, that believe this is not an issue. the world trade center was designed to have a 707 hit it and remain standing…we saw a 767 exceeded that limitation. in the interest of safety and preserving the us capitol and other structures near DCA from total destruction I believe there should be a limit to size and range of acft arriving and departing DCA.

  36. Firstly I am thankful initial reports indicate all aboard have survived the USAirways incident in NYC today.

    Sam’s arguments do not, however. The plane in question, a fully loaded A320 is smaller than the 757, the largest plane operating at DCA. The fuel load to Charlotte is nowhere close to the requirement of a transcon flight, which that plane is capable of depending on the purchasing airline’s requirements.

    Third, initial reports of a bird strike in both engines mean deliberate sabotage was not a factor. Praises to the pilot who successfully ditched in to the Hudson, on the other side of Manhattan and the East River from LGA.

    A “double-strike,” while rare can bring down any plane of any size, as it did in this case. The size of the plane or the length of the journey wasn’t the issue.

  37. sam – I’m having trouble following your arguments. Most importantly, the aircraft that were used to crash into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were not actually from National or LaGuardia. They could have been from anywhere.

    Also, nobody is really arguing for different sized aircraft here. I can’t imagine a widebody being used on the transcontinental flights – we’ll just see more of the same planes we see today with more fuel onboard. Today’s accident has absolutely nothing to do with fuel load.

  38. The intent of this bill is to spread the air pollution around.I would assume, as local government slowly realizes the pollution dumped on their locales ; are putting it on the DC Ghees to control it.The vested Aviation interests are prodding their agents to act….There is a ground swell of concern over , not only the Jet engines contribution to global warming, but its consumption of great volumes of air lowering the girdle of air that sustains us. The 21st century will bring teletravel-.CEOS will not longer take jaunts at the expense the common stock holder,-And for those proposing bills, they are the collective Rodney Dangerfields of the “American People”…

  39. Jose – Not sure why you picked this post to rant, but this has nothing to do with pollution. There is not change in the number of flights – it would simply allow them to fly to more destinations with the flights that are there.

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