Delta Joins an Effort to Kill the Perimeter Rule in DC

DCA - Washington/National, Delta, Government Regulation

‘Tis the season to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Congress, and that means it’s time for all sorts of ideas to crawl out of the woodwork in hopes of being included in the bill. There are rarely new ideas but instead resurrected old ones. Today, I’ll focus on the latest effort to remove Washington National Airport’s perimeter rule, an effort that’s being backed by Delta.

National Airport is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC and is by far the most convenient airport for those downtown (and in Arlington, Virginia). But National is limited to flights of no more than 1,250 miles by federal law, and this is a restriction that has been debated for ages.

The rule came about in the 1960s in response to concerns about aircraft safety. The heavier aircraft weights required for longer distance flying meant that a winding, lower and slower climb would be required that put important national security landmarks right in the crosshairs of these airplanes. See…

Blue = normal aircraft routing to/from Washington/National
Red = routing required for flights longer than 1,250 miles

This is a joke.

And of course, that’s not true at all. That’s about the closest to a valid rationale I could think of… if it were true… when the reality is far dumber.

When they decided to build Dulles Airport way out in the sticks of Virginia, they wanted to force airlines to use the airport. So, Congress created a perimeter rule to limit flights from National to 650 miles — it wasn’t extended to 1,250 miles until the 1980s — to force all other traffic to Dulles.

Now, why would they do this and not just shut down National and put all traffic at Dulles back in the day? It’s all politics, of course.

Imagine being a politician working in the heart of DC. You don’t want to have to schlep out to Dulles to fly home every week. Leave that to the peasants. The 650-mile limit conveniently included Chicago at 612 miles along with Atlanta in the south and the entire Northeast. When it went to 1,250 miles, DFW magically snuck in. Go figure.

The politicians were so strongly involved that by the 1990s, Western politicans were mad they had to go to Dulles. Sen John McCain (R-AZ) pushed through the first perimeter exemptions in 2000, many of which were unsurprisingly awarded to his hometown airline America West to fly his staff and constituents home nonstop to Phoenix. (McCain did, it should be noted, refuse to fly the nonstop for years to make it known that he didn’t do it just for personal gain. So he does deserve credit for that.)

Today there are 20 roundtrip daily exemptions with Denver and Los Angeles each at 4x daily, Phoenix at 3x daily, San Francisco and Seattle at 2x daily, and Austin, Las Vegas, Portland (OR), San Juan, and Salt Lake City at 1x daily.

With Dulles firmly established and the population growing in that direction anyway, there is no valid reason for the perimeter rule to exist at this point, only political ones. And now there appears to be a fight brewing to try and kill it once again.

The so-called Capital Access Alliance is a newly-formed group that wants to do away with the perimeter rule. And what’s their pitch? There are six prongs.

  • Improve Access to Washington, D.C.- add more nonstops to places where more people live
  • Improve Passenger Productivity – enable more nonstop options instead of connections
  • Generate Additional Federal and State Tax Revenue – pitch is weird, I think, that more people will fly to the region if they can go to DCA
  • Reduce Airline Ticket Prices – reduce fares from DCA with more competition on big routes
  • Create New Jobs – absolutely no idea how this is possible
  • Reduce Harmful CO2 Emissions – shorter drive to airports, fewer emissions

Some of these make sense and others don’t at all. But the supporters of the alliance are mostly who you’d expect: organizations that represent places beyond the perimeter today. There are also a couple of local parking companies, the US Pakistan Chamber of Commerce, … and Delta.

As much as I’d like to delve into why the US Pakistan Chamber of Commerce cares about this at all, let’s focus on Delta. Delta would love nothing more than to have the perimeter rule go away. It has more than 50 daily flights from DCA, but it is dwarfed by American’s nearly 250. It has more than it needs to serve its main hubs, but it doesn’t have enough to really make a go of flying elsewhere beyond a couple of quirky Midwestern spots that I won’t bother getting into here.

With the perimeter rule gone, it could take the 10x+ daily flights to JFK and LaGuardia and instead turn a couple into more flying to its three hubs beyond the perimeter in LA, Salt Lake, and Seattle. Today it only has 1x daily each to LA and Salt Lake in the beyond-perimeter allocations.

For Delta, the elimination of the perimeter rule is a win-win. It can increase flying using its existing slots to go to the places where there’s more demand. At the same time, it can help weaken its rival United by hurting the Dulles operation while also making American focus more on DCA. It’s a distraction for its rivals, and that’s always welcome.

It is no surprise at all to see this effort be backed by Delta. But what about the other airlines? I’ll cover that in another post.

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80 comments on “Delta Joins an Effort to Kill the Perimeter Rule in DC

  1. Although self serving for Delta, the removal of the perimeter rule is a net positive. The same needs to happen at LGA as well, not just DCA.

  2. I liked the anecdote about Senator McCain refusing to fly the DCA-PHX nonstop for many years.

    Regardless of whether one liked McCain or not, I doubt that many are/were surprised by that decision, given that Sen. McCain’s integrity and principles were respected by those on both sides of the aisle.

    1. From the other side of the aisle… I miss Sen. McCain.

      On topic, I see little justification for keeping the perimeter rules for LGA and DCA.

    2. Integrity and principles? Off topic: McCain was not without fault. Left his wife and three children to marry Cindy (18 years younger). He also covered up a longtime affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. I’ll do Newt Gingrich next, if you wish.

    1. Why on earth would you want to add a slot auction?? That is merely eliminating one bureaucratic barrier to entry, and replacing it with another! It is time for government regulation to be reduced – no, ELIMINATED – at all 3 of the busiest, most restricted airports in the USA – DCA, LGA & LUV. We need more airline competition to drive down prices, not more bureaucratic intervention, which will only serve to drive prices up!! Are we a ‘free market economy,’ or a ‘government controlled & slot restricted economy’?

      1. “Are we a ‘free market economy,’ or a ‘government controlled & slot restricted economy?”

        We are the latter as the former only exists in fantasy.

  3. I understand why this wouldn’t be good for United, but I don’t understand why it’s bad for AA?

    “while also making American focus more on DCA.” what does this mean? Are you saying doesn’t focus on dca right now? AA is utilizing their dca slots. AA’s ability to add more west coast flying (or even just austin, for example) doesn’t seem to be a bad thing for them, just United at Dulles.

    1. Looking forward to Cranky’s thoughts on this. A few come to mind now. 1. AA has far less to gain than DL, they have service to their two ex-perimeter hubs (3x daily to PHX and 2x daily LAX, and LAX is hardly a hub), they don’t have other hubs begging for service like DL, and more competition on these longer routes isn’t a good thing for them. 2. Someone points to DCA-ORF, DCA-TYS. These aren’t amazing routes but they support high fares with mostly local traffic (data on connecting flows via DCA would be interesting), AA may be better off keeping those uncompetitive routes instead of shifting to longer, competitive routes. 3. Speaking of shifting routes, 250 slots/flights a day isn’t enough to turn DCA into a great connecting airport (also sandwiched between connection machines in PHL and CLT), and those connections would be needed to scale DCA for longer, thinner routes. DCA’s funny in AA’s network, looking forward to seeing if Cranky has ideas for how DCA would work for AA without the perimeter route.

      1. Good thoughts and I appreciate the feedback.

        However, delta already serves SLC and LAX nonstop from dca. Sure, they could add frequencies to both but aa could serve SLC as well (granted, unlikely since aa likely has better things to do with slots than serve SLC but they also don’t need to for connections when phx and dfw can duplicate nearly every connection slc provides for delta and since denver is the much stronger mountain west hub and United would likely take more of any connection traffic than delta) and would likely add frequency at lax, as well given AA’s larger slot pool at dca.

        That brings up SEA, to your point. AS does sea-dca, delta does not. I’m sure delta would likely add the route but delta is… half the size of AS in Seattle and ~1/5 the size of aa in dca and the route takes up about 6-7 hours of block time one way for a plane for a route where their competition could also add frequency and have stronger point of sale on both ends.
        Any Asia connections for delta would likely be better served via dtw or MSP (even atl) than Seattle.
        Per small cities like ORF and TYS. There’s nothing stopping competition on those routes for aa out of dca today. If that’s the most profitable use of dca slots today, they’d likely keep those routes and frequencies or upgauge with lower frequency to smaller cities while using a slot for a larger city like SEA or SAN (movement between regional and mainline slots, sure… but theoretically)…
        I understand the points some are making with small cities, but that competition could exist today but doesn’t. Removing the perimeter route just allows more slot optimization by aa.

        I suppose opening the perimeter rule weakens the dfw hub for aa a bit since more connections could go via denver or slc while dfw has no perimeter restrictions currently with dca….

    2. Julie – It’s not necessarily bad. The point is that AA would then have to focus more of its efforts on deciding what to do at DCA. It’s a distraction that it otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s a minor point.

    3. Julie,

      I’m guessing American could add one or two more flights to Los Angeles, two or three to Austin, TX, and maybe one or two to Seattle. I’m thinking three is probably enough to Phoenix. Its other hubs are all within the current perimeter.

  4. I think the other major airlines’ positions would be clear: UA opposed as it would weaken IAD O&D traffic, AA opposed because they are by far the largest airline at DCA including multiple monopoly routes and any changes to the status quo would weaken this position, WN on the fence but probably leaning supportive because they would always be interested in more DCA slots but it would weaken their BWI O&D traffic.

    1. why would AA be against this? What AA monopoly routes there today would be threatened by opening up the DCA perimeter? I believe it would only be PHX? Every other monopoly route AA currently does at DCA could be done by Delta today within the current perimeter rules with Delta’s current slot pool and their strength in the SE. There’s a case to be made that AA may be making suboptimal route decisions like 4x on DCA-ORF due to perimeter restrictions and that might change if AA could open that DCA slot to somewhere else, but Delta could start DCA-ORF tomorrow; Delta can’t start DCA-PHX under the current perimeter restrictions.
      AA may like the status quo. I don’t disagree there, but I don’t think opening the perimeter rule hurts AA all that much from the monopoly route side.

      1. One potential reason: the current airline leases for DCA and IAD have a provision to move some revenue from DCA to IAD; if nothing changes with the perimeter, then you’d expect that transfer to go away. However, if Congress changes the perimeter, the current lease says that MWAA can alter the deal. Long story short, AA’s costs at DCA could go up – with that money directly subsidizing UA at IAD.

        I will imagine this clause will remain in a new airport lease agreement, or as a trigger for any future changes to the revenue transfer provision.

      2. I think I’m conflating two different issues. Slots and perimeter.

        Yes, DL could start DCA-ORF or any other flights inside the perimeter; however, each would be at the expense of an existing city pair because of the fixed number of slots DL has at DCA.

        So from a practical perspective, the slot controls protect AA’s monopoly status on dozens of routes because DL isn’t sacrificing an ATL run or UA to ORD to begin service on a non core route.

  5. Big picture, I think dumping the perimeter rule makes sense. Given that there are still slot controls, airlines should be able to upguage and serve western destinations outside the current perimeter that are theoretically more profitable than inside this artificial constraint.

    The last time this conversation came up, I recall some coordinated opposition from folks in cities that benefited from maintaining it – e.g. another flight to the west coast pulls service from small or mid-sized cities with current service to DC like upstate New York or Knoxville, TN.

    1. That’s why it will likely not go away. By eliminating the perimeter rule, some of DCA’s flights to smaller towns will go away. The members of Congress representing those districts won’t let that happen.

      1. The white paper from the ‘Capital Access Alliance’ is clearly making a political case, which is importantly why they’re asking for more slot exemptions rather than changes to existing slots. Changing existing slots is a zero-sum game; but slot exemptions are ‘free.’

        Where the white paper falls apart is in the idea that DCA can easily accommodate more flights, which is a more and more dubious assumption. Lots of comments have noted that since opening the new concourse, DCA goes into holding quite frequently due to ramp congestion. Plus, the additional use of larger jets as well as AA’s increased use of banked schedules for connecting passengers has all added up to a bit of an operational mess.

        All of the previous changes have had Congress pair beyond-perimeter exemptions with within-perimeter exemptions, but you can only go to that well so many times. It also makes a bit of a mockery of the very idea of why slots are necessary as a management tool. You can make a strong case that Congress shouldn’t have any say at all on the right number of slots or what they are used for; that should be a policy choice for the FAA and MWAA.

        1. Regarding AA’s banked schedule jamming up the airport, why do carriers insist on making small, capacity constrained airports like LGA and DCA true hubs? It’s one thing to have a large number of flights there to serve O&D traffic, but shouldn’t you save all the feeder traffic and connections for airports that can actually handle them? Especially in cities like DC and NYC which have 2 other larger airports better suited for hubs.

  6. I agree with SEAN – let’s get rid of the perimeter rule at LGA too. Such silliness. Any reason for LGA’s is even less logical, as JFK (and EWR) were never as far as Dulles is from Washington. And LGA’s runways are longer than DCA’s. I wonder how the Spirit nonstop to LAX (Saturdays only due to the perimeter rule) is doing. Does anyone know?

    And when we speak about convenience for politicians: for years, DCA had a special curbside – like, literally across the departures curb – parking lot just for Members of Congress. Talk about convenient. Does anyone know if that special parking still exist? Or must they – gasp! pearl clutch! – ride the Metro Blue Line from Capitol Hill directly to DCA, without even a transfer? Just wondering. ;)

      1. Cranky – Ugh. Of course, one can only wonder how it would have performed as a daily service.

        And thanks for the update!

          1. ATX Jetsetter – That might be the case – but the real question is how would a Delta, United, or American transcon to or from LGA do?

            I just really think the entire perimeter rule at ANY airport is an anachronism and needs to be removed.

            1. Oh, I fully agree with you that the perimeter rule needs to go. They also need to remove the gate cap at DAL, but that’s another argument for another day

  7. As long as slot controls are in place, I see no harm in letting market forces determine what cities are served nonstop from DCA.

    I would think American would have the biggest headache to sort out which DCA-ZZZ city pairs get culled in favor of longer haul bigger markets.

    Would be ironic if American dropped several of the smaller cities opening up the opportunity for United to finally capture some of that market share into the IAD hub.

  8. Selfishly, I’d love to see the perimeter expanded/removed to both DCA and LGA. I want to get Austin inside the perimeter so I don’t have to fly to Dulles/Newark/JFK (Other than the 1x daily on AA AUS-DCA).

    1. Actually the daily DCA-AUS flight is on WN, AA has 2x daily AUS-IAD. You’d think one if not both of those flights would be moved to DCA.

      1. I’m shocked by this. With AA’s hub at DCA and the focus city they’re building in AUS I just assumed it was them. Figured WN would be running passengers through their BWI focus city.

        And AA flying AUS-IAD would have been surprising in the past but they have built AUS up like crazy and are constantly trying new routes.

        1. Back when the last round of exemptions was granted, the approvals were awarded pretty evenly among the airlines. AA was more focused on transcons and WN saw this opportunity. But I don’t think either of them would envision this as anything but a point to point route.

  9. I wonder how much UA would be against this. True, it has the potential to impact IAD, but, as you said, IAD is established now in a built up and wealthy part of the region. Additionally, the train has been extended and now serves the airport, making it more accessible.

    UA seems to have the most underserved hubs out of the US3 from DCA, with only one flight each to DEN and SFO. With 700 planes on order and the resulting shift to mainline service, existing flights to other hubs could be upsized to ensure a net positive in seats available, while adding more flights to DEN and SFO, while starting LAX service.

    DCA will remain slot controlled, so there are only so many flights that could be added beyond the perimeter. Plus, I’m sure AA would be in best position to move their existing flights to cities DL and UA would want to serve, making the new service slightly less appealing.

    1. I’d be curious if UA would threaten to halt construction on their IAD new (partial) terminal if this goes through.

  10. The Capital Access Alliance website states, “Our goal is simple: for Congress to authorize additional direct flights to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) when they take up the new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill.”

    “Additional direct flights” doesn’t sound like a total elimination of the perimeter rule. But maybe it’s an acknowledgement of reality. I noted that American’s logo isn’t on the website, I’m guessing we’ll read more about that later.

    Here are some ideas I’d like to see implemented:

    1. Increase the perimeter to 1615 statute miles. That would bring Denver, Austin, and San Juan into the perimeter. It would also bring in Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, which is 1610 miles from DCA. I noticed that the city of El Paso, Texas is part of the group. El Paso is 1719 miles from DCA. But that wouldn’t bring in any more state capitals. The airlines that currently fly to Denver (3x Frontier, Ix United), Austin (1x Southwest), and San Juan (1x Jet Blue) could keep their current exemptions and could move them around. United could fly to San Francisco with its exemption. Frontier could fly a number of places other than Denver or simply stay there, since it only has 3 slot pairs. And Southwest could fly to Las Vegas and give American some competition on that route.

    2. Allow a few more exemptions, and allow a few more current exemptions to be moved around if market conditions warrant. I’d like to see at least one fixed slot exemption to serve beyond perimeter state capitals – Reno/Carson City, NV, Boise, ID, Helena MT, Sacramento, CA, Salem, OR, etc. A 1615 mile limit would bring state capitals like Cheyenne WY, Bismark ND, and Pierre, SD into the perimeter. In case you didn’t notice, I think direct flights from DCA to the various state capitals should be a focus of any new beyond perimeter slots. And a few new flexible exemptions should be added, which would require forfeiting an existing slot.

    I’m not sure that a complete lifting of the DCA perimeter rule is a good idea, as many of the existing slots are restricted to “commuter” flights. The airport may not be able to handle the extra passengers if the commuter slot restrictions are removed. But maybe I’m overthinking that issue.

    Last – as a way to appease United – I’d propose a slot swap. Delta could trade some of its slots at DCA for some at JFK.

    1. OOPS!!! I misstated my last point – big time. OOPS!!!

      My thought is that United could trade some of its slots at DCA for some of Delta’s at JFK.

      1. Why would United have any interest in JFK slots? They abandoned flying there entirely last year

        1. United abandoned JFK well before last year. Its current CEO, Scott Kirby, has stated more than a number of times that he feels the airline’s former CEO, Jeff Smisek, made a big mistake getting rid of its JFK slots. This would be one possible avenue to get some of them back.

    2. “additional direct flights” sounds to me like they are advocating for NEW perimeter exempt slots and not an overall elimination of the perimeter restriction. i’m sure they would like to do that but probably see it as politically unfeasible?

      of course more DCA slots will immediately summon the NIMBY forces and noise police to mobilize.

      1. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there will be any more slots added. I’m thinking that any new beyond perimeter slots will likely be movable, and require the surrender of an existing slot pair. That was the case with the current flexible beyond perimeter slots. United, Delta, US Airways, and American had to give up a slot pair to fly their new beyond perimeter flights.

        1. ah so they are just looking for additional perimeter exemptions for existing slots? given the grandiosity of their mission statement, i assumed otherwise.

          1. These groups may ultimately want more, but I’m thinking, given all of the various factions, they’re simply being realistic.

      2. Yes, they are specifically asking for 20-25 new slot exemptions, mixed between within and beyond perimeter exemptions.

        They are specific in the reason for this: it is a political campaign trying to win votes; new slot exemptions are win-win, while converting existing slots is zero-sum.

        Now, I think adding additional exemptions is a bad idea and completely defeats the entire rationale for having slots in the first place. But this has always been a nakedly political process, and not one based on sound demand management.

    3. This is the de-regulation era, so slots would not be mandated to serve any destination. Airlines would want perimeter slots to fly to hubs, not random map dots beacuse they’re state capitals. Airlines would have very low interest in serving most of the city pairs you listed, aside from SMF, perhaps. BOI and RNO have a healthy PDEW if you combine DCA/IAD, but I don’t think they’re any airlines next best unserved route.

  11. When I look at a map of the western US I do not see non stop destinations of true value lacking in flying to DCA. People, most of the population are on this side.

    1. SAN and SAT are usually cited as the cities with most passengers from DCA that do not have nonstop service.

    2. Sacramento, CA and Portland OR are fairly large cities come to mind. Not to mention San Jose, CA, Tucson, AZ, Colorado Springs, CO, El Paso, TX, and Albuquerque, NM. I mentioned most of the various beyond perimeter state capitals in my post. Olympia Washington, that state’s capital, is close to Seattle and Tacoma, in case someone thinks I completely ignored it.

        1. Bill,

          You’re right, of course. The writer was suggesting that there weren’t any western cities he saw that warranted service from DCA, I simply, and probably wrongly, used Portland as an example. Thanks for pointing out the fact that Portland does, indeed, have non-stop service from DCA,

    3. When comparing beyond perimeter destinations in the Western US, IAD doesn’t actually have many more than DCA. SAN, SAT, SMF, and a few seasonal ski destinations seem to be the extent of additional coverage from IAD.

      Surprising that LAX actually has more carriers serving DCA (3) than IAD (2). And you would think IAD-LAS would have more than just UA.

      1. It’s not really that surprising, is it?

        DCA’s existing exemptions have already covered just about all the big markets that can sustain those kinds of flights. You go down the list of big cities where it’s obvious there should be a flight to DC, and the only two places that stand out are SAN and SAT.

        Likewise, it’s also not surprising that the carriers that can move their exemptions around have moved those flights to LAX. The only exception is UA keeping their flight to SFO – but again, that’s not a surprise.

        If the perimeter rule disappeared tomorrow, you’d see a few new additions to places like SAN and SAT, but I doubt you’d see any other new destinations. Instead, you’d see a parade of new flights to airports that already have service to DCA.

        1. It’s not just about dots on a map. There may be service to those cities, but nearly enough for the demand. AUS is a perfect example. 1 nonstop a day carries only 50.7% of the PDEWs in the market, and the rest are forced onto connections or to IAD/BWI. DCALAX is a 724 PDEW market (Q3 2023) with 4 nonstop flights at a 90% LF, and fares topping $400 each way.

          1. Sure, it’s not just about dots on the map. But it’s also not just about ensuring DCA is competitive.

            This is a political case: if Delta and others come out and say “we want more exemptions so we can fly more to cities that already have beyond-perimeter flights,” that’s not going to be a particularly compelling argument.

            There’s a reason this argument focuses on a) slot exemptions, rather than using existing slots, and b) new cities without beyond-perimeter service.

            That’s been the ‘recipe’ for political success in past legislation to change the perimeter rule. Previous efforts have focused almost exclusively on ensuring that new markets gain access AND that existing markets don’t lose it.

  12. Note that some of the outside the perimeter exemptions have moved around. I know AA moved DCA-SAN to LAX. With DL and AS each flying that route, that was probably when AA was trying to keep up with the Joneses at LAX and likely would have done better sticking with SAN (often cited as the airport with most DCA passengers but no nonstop service).

    I am also certain that AA had 2x daily to LAS dating back to the HP days so, if that’s down to one, they’ve reallocated that exemption as well.

    1. Four exemptions can be moved around. American has two (one via US Airways), both of which are used to fly to Los Angeles. Delta has one, which it also flies to Los Angeles. And United has one, which it uses to fly to San Francisco. America West never had two Las Vegas exemptions. Its pattern at the time it was granted the exemptions was almost always three frequencies at Phoenix and one at Las Vegas. Those exemptions have always been fixed.

  13. Forgot to ask how United’s growth over the next few years will alter these dynamics. They’re already about the same size as AA in DCA, in terms of flight counts, bigger if you take into account the passenger volumes and aircraft size.

    With plenty of room to grow with gates at ab airport that doesn’t have the ATC delays seen in NYC and DCA, what would a UA hub at IAD with 400 flights, mostly mainline, so to the DCA-IAD relationship?

    1. United is nowhere near the same size at DCA as American. UA is limited to hub and former hub service (hello Cleveland) at DCA.

      Perhaps you’re thinking of the DC metro area figures that cranky used in a recent post which includes all three DC area airports.

      1. Sorry I wasn’t clear on my post. I meant “UA at IAD is already the same size as AA at DCA”, bigger if you consider the bigger planes, international service, and ability to grow further with all of the new planes joining the fleet.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see UA at 300-400 flights (mostly mainline) at IAD one day.

      2. UA has several southern destinations coming into IAD, I’m assuming some for connections onto EWR and also non stops going to Florida.

  14. +1 for relaxing/removing the perimeter rule for selfish reasons; I’ve flown a couple round-trips to DCA on the WN flight.. My guess is that AUS would immediately get 2-5x daily to LGA, split between B6, DL, and AA. We’d also probably bump to 4x daily to DCA (2x AA, 2x WN). Maybe DL throws 1x daily to DCA as well.

    I don’t think WN would mind removal of the perimeter rules, as that just pushes DCA to be used for more O&D as airlines can actually fly to where they want to. BWI shouldn’t be hurt too much. Maybe AA/DL being more competitive on unit costs due to upgauging would be a concern, but the playbook for a “normal” slot-constrained airport is easy enough, and WN can just throw more 738/7M8s at DCA (the AUS flight I was on was a 738 each time I flew it). Same thing for LGA.

    I also think Frontier would move their DCA flights elsewhere in a heartbeat if they didn’t have to run 3x daily to DEN to keep the slots. That, plus some divestitures from B6, might let them bump to 4-6 destinations rather than, erm, one.

  15. DCA has one of the lowest average aircraft sizes for a large airport – with LGA very close.
    Perimeter restrictions force airlines to put too much capacity into some markets with too many frequencies and not enough if any where many people want to be able to fly.

    There needs to be a gradual relaxation of the number of market-specific restrictions including for perimeter with changes instead to shifts toward what the airport can physically handle – regardless of the market. If SAN can be served with an A220 and the airport can only handle X number of planes above a certain size, then airlines should be limited only on the physical capabilities of the airport and the gates that are used.

    Some markets will need to be on a list of “cannot cancel service” but that is a small fraction of the number of markets.

    There might need to be maximum number of slots that any airline can prevent and minimums for small slot holders but the goal must be to minimize any measures that limit the ability of airlines to offer service that airlines are willing to pay for anywhere in the US or precleared foreign cities.

    The simple fact is that EVERY airline benefits from relaxing perimeter restrictions except for United. Doing anything from a policy perspective that protects any single stakeholder is bad policy.

    Let’s also not forget that IAD receives money from DCA activities – and that needs to end. NO other US airports can financially rely on other sources and neither should IAD.

    1. Tim,

      As i think you know, there are a number of DCA slots, mostly held by American, that are specifically designated as commuter slots. The aircraft used to fly those flights can’t seat more than 76 passengers (I wonder where they got that number LOL). That’s much of why DCA has such a small average aircraft gauge. I don’t see the number of commuter slots shrinking, but the case could be made to increase the size of aircraft that are classifies as “commuter” aircraft to, maybe, 110 seats (I wonder where I got that number LOL).

      One possibility could be to allocate a larger percentage of flexible beyond perimeter exemptions to smaller carriers, and reserve a bigger percentage of the fixed slots for the big boys like Delta, Southwest and American. Having written that, I do think more DCA beyond perimeter slots should be flexible, especially if more of them are added to the mix. As I mentioned above, some of the new fixed slots could be specifically allocated to serve out-of-perimeter state capitals, such as Reno/Carson City, Salem, Boise, and Sacramento. If the perimeter is extended to 1615 miles, as I suggested above, Austin, Denver and San Juan would be brought into the perimeter (as would Santa Fe), and the carriers who have those slots could move them if they want to. Frontier’s case would be unique as it only has the three slot pairs to Denver.

      If the perimeter is extended to 1615 miles, United would benefit by the ability to schedule as many flights per day to Denver as it can fill. And, as I proposed above (and elsewhere), United and Delta could swap slots at DCA and JFK as part of an overall plan.

      As you rightly point out, DCA’s physical capacity has to be considered in all of this.

      1. There’s no reason to shrink the number of commuter slots at this time. There are far more RJs using regular slots than vice versa – this is not a real constraint, and certainly not the reason for DCA’s small average gauge.

        About 23% of the normal slots are for 76-seaters or smaller; DCA’s 2021 noise report shows 55% of flights were on RJs. This is not the constraint.

      2. as noted, the number of slots that are really restricted to regional jets is not driving the small average aircraft size; it is the number of slots that are being used by regional jets that could be used for any slot.

        And changing the perimeter to 1615 miles makes no more sense than the current perimeter; any number other than the full capacity of the continental US (which itself is the limit of what current aircraft can do from DCA’s runways) is simply showing preference for one airline or community over another.

        The US doesn’t have to negotiate with United Airlines to extend the perimeter. If it makes sense to change the perimeter, then make it so that any slot that is allocated can do so to any destination that is within the physical constraints of DCA’s infrastructure. If 10% of the total non-commuter slots can be used for any destination in the US, then 10% should be the only restriction. There should be no miles or cities in or out of what is allowed but solely a certain number or percentage of total DCA flights.

        The people of Denver should not gain any preference over the people of Phoenix or Boise and United should have no advantage over any other airline. If the DCA perimeter needs to be dropped for a certain percentage of flights, then the impact on United or IAD should be disregarded.

        btw, Delta is adding Saturday only LGA-SLC service this summer, an outside the LGA perimeter flight which gives you some idea that they aren’t trying to do at DCA to gain something that they aren’t willing to do also at LGA where they are the largest slot holder.

        Reducing the number of flights under perimeter restrictions is good for consumers and should happen to the greatest physical extent that both LGA and DCA can handle.

        1. Nobody suggested the US had to “negotiate with United airlines to extend the perimeter.”

          In fact you’re the only one who brought up United in this discussion when the fact is that every other airline in this country has chosen not to join Delta in this particular crusade.

        2. My god, Tim. My thoughts were merely a suggestion. Lighten up a bit. I don’t buy your argument that any number below the size of the U.S. lower 48 benefits one carrier over another. I’ve seen no substantive evidence of that from any credible source, only political rhetoric and “studies” such as this one, that come to the conclusions they’re paid to reach. Sorry, that’s my cynical side coming out. Are you afraid your beloved Delta can’t compete without some form of government assistance? of course, You’re entitled to your opinions, but none of what we write is going to make one bit of difference. Congress will have the final say.

          1. there is actually ample data to show that the revenue per flight from LGA and DCA is considerably lower because of the high number of regional jets and the limited distance those flights can operate.
            Limiting the distance of flights cuts off large segments of the US from having nonstop service which forces airlines to use their slots for more flights to closer destinations

            The objection to longer flights from DCA is precisely because many consumers would choose to fly from DCA to the west coast instead of IAD (or BWI). The objections to relaxing the restrictions prove why it relaxing restrictions is pro-consumer even if it comes at the cost of at least one company, United Airlines.

  16. “As much as I’d like to delve into why the US Pakistan Chamber of Commerce cares about this at all,”

    I literally lol’d at this….well done, Cranky :D

      1. as noted elsewhere, the people voted against a 2nd airport.
        If Delta or any company can convince a majority of voters in any jurisdiction about any issue, then we all simply have to accept that democracy works.

  17. Why do carriers insist on making small, capacity constrained airports like LGA and DCA true hubs anyways? It’s one thing to have a large number of flights there to serve O&D traffic, but shouldn’t you save all the feeder traffic and connections for airports that can actually handle them? Especially in cities like DC and NYC which have 2 other larger airports better suited for hubs. Honestly would be better for DCA to have more service to bigger western cities cities like Seattle rather than several times a day to tiny northeast towns, and I guess getting rid of the perimeter restriction would probably encourage this.

    1. There seems to be this fixation with being near “downtown” even though that’s increasingly becoming an obsolete concept. Frankly, city airports are a pain in the a** unless you’re a downtown-living rich guy or millennial condo dweller. I’ll never forget how the airlines (looking at you WN) abandoned the wonderfully convenient PVD and MHT in favor of BOS, which involves a drive from hell unless you’re downtown Boston or in Winthrop, Cambridge or Chelsea. Airlines do this all the time.

      Now, I’ll admit that DC is different, thanks to the federal offices there (which will never move). But, that said, more people with more money now live within an easy shot of IAD; and BWI is an easy ride for most of those on the Maryland side. DCA is really only uber-convenient to those in DC itself (including tony Georgetown), Arlington, Alexandria, and southern PG County (which isn’t all that prosperous).

      1. Well, I’m in Bethesda. Pretty close to equidistant to IAD, DCA, and BWI, depending on traffic (everything, always dependent on traffic). I’ll take DCA over IAD whenever it’s available not so much because it’s easier to get to, but because it’s easier *once you get there*. I can be curbside to gate in five minutes at DCA. IAD involves either a subway or an antiquated people-mover thing to get me to my gate. Is it a huge difference? No. Does it feel like a huge difference? Yes.

        (And, fwiw, to say that taking Metro to Dulles has not yet quite caught on would be a significant understatement.)

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