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Set us free to fly to DC!

Perimeter rule limits access, raises costs to nation’s capital

Reagan National Airport is seen from a departing flight.
Reagan National Airport is seen from a departing flight. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As a native San Antonian, I’ve witnessed the flourishing of the Alamo City over decades.

Like many parts of the Southwest United States, it is overwhelmingly Hispanic and has evolved into a hub for business, education, culture and technology, and we’ve even adopted the proud title of Military City USA due to the high concentration of critical military installations, as well as tens of thousands of veterans and their families.

Yet, at the same time, the federal rules that limit direct air travel to Washington, D.C., from cities like ours have remained stagnant for nearly 60 years, ignoring the substantial changes the airline industry, consumer patterns and flight technology have all undergone in recent decades.

It’s past time that we change these outdated rules — not just for San Antonio, but for all of the dynamic and growing cities in close proximity to the Mexican border that federal law keeps out of reach, both physically and financially, from our nation’s capital.

As Congress takes up Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization this summer and into the fall, it’s crucial that my former colleagues — regardless of what states they represent — unlock the incredible economic potential of more competition and consumer choice in air travel by modernizing the outdated “perimeter rule” that limits direct flights to and from Reagan National Airport outside of a 1,250-mile radius.

This rule, initially designed to protect development at far-flung Dulles Airport, has become an obsolete relic of a bygone era that keeps air fares to our nation’s capital and its surrounding metro area the highest in the nation.

I’m no stranger to this fight — I’ve watched as cities like ours have tried, cycle after cycle, to secure new, direct access that expand choices for millions of consumers, business leaders, members of our military, and student groups that visit Washington, D.C., every year. Unfortunately, some entrenched interests that seek to maintain the status quo have defeated such efforts every five years when the FAA comes up for reauthorization.

As the nation’s seventh largest metro area, which also boasts more than 80,000 active duty military members and 250,000 military veterans, it is simply unconscionable to let the parochial and territorial interests of airlines continue to block direct access between our city and DCA.

With one in eight residents in our region connected to the military, San Antonians deserve more convenient and affordable access to Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia to support our robust and expanding defense contracting, cybersecurity and aircraft manufacturing sectors.

To be clear, expanding the number of direct flights between DCA and out-of-perimeter airports in the western half of the United States would not impact or limit the flight options for travelers inside the federally imposed artificial barrier — it would only enhance the options that consumers have.

We know the demand is there and ready to be met by all the airlines that operate at DCA.

A study found that 110 more daily round-trip flights would be needed to close the supply-demand gap of travel between Washington, D.C., and the top 25 out-of-perimeter metro markets. Furthermore, the study found that lack of supply to meet this demand costs travelers to Washington, D.C., more than $500 million annually in above-average flight prices, and that the cumbersome process of taking connecting flights to arrive in D.C. costs passengers $200 million in lost productivity annually.

I’m grateful my home state senators — Ted Cruz and John Cornyn — recognize the critical importance of expanding direct access to DCA for our growing communities. So do many of our House members.

Common sense solutions like the DCA Act — which would add up to 28 new direct flights to and from DCA — will enhance access to our nation’s capital for all of us along the Mexican border, and prevent our world-class business, military and community leaders from being isolated by an archaic federal rule that has far outlived its purpose. I urge other members of Congress from across America to join this effort to set us free.

Henry Bonilla represented Texas’ 23rd District from 1993-2007.

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