WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been tried before, but here we go again: an attempt to get Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport reopened to general aviation. This time a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the U.S. House directing the Department of Transportation to allow general aviation access within six months.
Except for a number of “”exceptions”” issued to a few state government aircraft and others of similar stature, general aviation has not been allowed into DCA since the terrorist attacks in 2001.
The bill (H.R. 1496) has high-power support. Leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia signed on to introduce the bill, including Dan Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the full committee; James Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking member; John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee; Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member; and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
Closure of Reagan Airport to general aviation has cost the local economy millions of dollars, and hundreds of hardworking people have been put out of work, commented Young. (A note that community leaders who are opposing airports in other areas might want to consider.) He acknowledged that the airport is unique in its nearness to the city and requires special protection. Scheduled aircraft carry armed air marshals, have secure cockpit doors, and passengers must stay seated for 30 minutes after takeoff and prior to landing. “”These procedures have satisfied the Department of Homeland Security’s concerns and allowed large aircraft that could pose a potential threat to fly into our Nation’s Capital,”” Young said.
In open and closed hearings in the past, Congress has been promised that ways would be found to open the airport to general aviation, Mica said. “”But nothing has happened,”” he said, adding “”we are tired of the failure to develop and implement an acceptable solution.””
The bill — which still needs action by the full House and the Senate, which introduced a similar bill in February — orders the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to permit resumption of GA within 180 days. Therein lies the rub. Homeland Security has been the cautious group, only recently relenting on some of the restrictions on the so-called “”DC-3″” general aviation airports near the city.
GA interests straining to return to Reagan National were quick to praise the introduction of this newest bit of legislation. Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, quickly thanked committee members. “”The business aviation community has long sought policies that enable security-qualified operators to access National Airport,”” he said.
At the National Air Transportation Association, President Jim Coyne expressed gratitude to the House members who introduced the bill, adding that he “”firmly believes that the light at the end of the tunnel is steadily burning brighter.””
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.