Senator Joe Manchin Will Try To Tank FAA Reauthorization Over 5 New Flights At National Airport

The Senate and House each developed FAA Reauthorization legislation, which includes four years of new funding and a number of policy changes.

When the two bodies of Congress develop legislation that’s different, a conference committee comes up with a unified bill that each one votes on. Usually that means an up or down vote. If either one amends the language you’re back to having two different bills and they need to pass the same one before it can be sent to the President for signature.

That’s why it is very rare to amend a conference committee report. Those get an up or down vote. If either chamber fails to approve the conference report, the bill is either sent back for further negotiation or fails altogether.

Senator Joe Manchin, though, says he’s ready to try to blow up the process over the 5 new flights that are being authorized for Washington’s Reagan National airport in the bill.

Here he raises 3 issues, all of which are.. silly.

  • Jeopardizes passenger safety. There was an air traffic control screw up at the airport this month and opponents of adding new flights have seized on that. But none have expressed concerns over similar incidents at other airports, including Washington Dulles, and there’s no indication whatsoever that the incident was caused by overscheduling. The bill itself also adds resources to air traffic control.

  • Increases flight congestion. There are plenty of times throughout the day where there are lulls in flying at National airport. The number of allowable flights there included 10% of slots for private aviation, though since 9/11 there has been almost none. And it was one of the most on-time airports last year. Five more total roundtrips will be immaterial here.

  • Decreases flights to West Virginia. This is just weird. These new flights, authorized travel within or beyond the airport’s 1,250 mile limit, will not reduce other flying at all. And it’s… West Virginia. You can drive from the airport to West Virginia in about 70 minutes.

    While these net new flights do not in any way trade off with existing service, it’s brazen for Manchin to argue that his state is entitled to air service that airlines wouldn’t offer because passengers don’t value as much as other places they’d fly. He’s saying the quiet part out loud: that he’s using his position as a Senator to force airlines to give him pork at the expense of residents of other states.

National Hall

Manchin claims the addition of flights is “for the added convenience of some lawmakers who live across the country.” That’s not true. It’s because Delta began a lobbying campaign a year ago. One of the chief supporters, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), has pushed to add a non-stop flight to San Antonio. He lives in Houston, which is inside the airport’s perimeter and has plenty of non-stop service. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who chairs the committee on the Senate side, has beyond-perimeter exemption service to Seattle already.

He then misleadingly offers that the airport was “[d]esigned to accommodate 15 million passengers annually, [yet] last year, DCA saw 25.5 million aircraft passengers come through its doors.” The airport’s terminals are busy, but a brand new E concourse was recently opened, and the increase in passengers largely stems from upgauging of flights to larger aircraft.

If FAA Reauthorization was done on a party-line basis, where Democrats needed Joe Manchin to get this passed in the Senate, he might be able to blow this up. I have no special knowledge here, but it seems like this is bluster. There are too many goodies being handed out on a bipartisan basis (such as more than doubling Essential Air Service funding, a program that was supposed to be zeroed in 1988) for this to die over Manchin’s objections.

The primary opponent of adding new flights at National airport is United Airlines which operates a hub at Washington Dulles – an airport that currently has a near-monopoly on flights over 1,250 miles. Five new flights won’t change much, but it’s potentially 5 destinations where United will see yield erosion, and it’s a nose under the tent towards eventual end to the protectionism that United enjoys there.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. All flights from DCA ought to connect in West Virginia .

    That would be the best compromise solution .

  2. Not that I agree with Manchin, but one can also drive to PA in the same time you reference. So by your logic, we should not care about the entire state of PA? There is more to WV than just the limited portions within driving distance to DCA. Widen your “thought leadership” beyond your limited understanding of driving in that region. There are TX airports within less driving distance to each other and population than those available anywhere in WV. Distances and driving time are not the same.

  3. My limited understanding of driving in the region? I lived there for 18 years. That comment was a bit cheeky, but American offers one CR7 flight DCA-CRW. What does the rest of West Virginia have to do with it? There’s no other service from DCA to West Virginia besides that.

  4. Can anyone figure out his real motivation? He’s retiring. UA is not a natural constituent. Do maybe the jets on the shorter routes use coal?

  5. @Gary … If all flights from DCA connected in West Virginia , we might see a busy corridor on aviation maps .

  6. @Dave W… Perhaps his real motivation , like all politicians , is being a verbal busy-body . Always coming up with stupid new ideas .

  7. OK, add a ton of coal a month delivered to his boat and I’m sure he will drop his objection.
    Our representatives should be picked by random every 3 years rotating 1/3 each year.
    Maybe they would then represent the people as in Jury selection.

  8. Sounds like this is a perfect situation for the virtue signaling greenies in congress to keep the 1,250 miles rule, but reverse it by only allowing flights over the limit. All the Congress critters that want to go somewhere less than 1,250 miles can drive or take a train or bus.

  9. The 1250 mile rule is pointless, get rid of it.

    I’m tired of government pretending to care about competition but enabling anti competitive behavior through their slot policies. I’d like to see no airline given any right to a slot, but instead they have to bid on them annually, or even more frequently to keep them. No more sitting on slots if another airline values them more.

  10. Joe probably lining up a nice pay-day once he quits the senate.

    Listening to network news in DC today, several reports about ‘safety concerns’ with these new flights. So clearly the PR push has begun. Of course it was all nonsense, with reporter asking some randomer at the airport if they were worried about the safety issues with adding new flights — for what its worth the lady that was asked, said she wanted more flights at DCA but now was concerned if it meant a loss of safety – mission accomplished!!

  11. Just follow the money. All of Manchins comments are a smoke screen for a big payday he will be getting from someone.

  12. I thought most West Virginians traveled by covered wagon or mule when the leave the hollow

  13. I think he’s just pissed because he saw a “It’s All Relative In West Virginia” t-shirt.

  14. I can’t wait to see Joe take that one way flight back to WV for good. I’m sure his replacement with be even more loathsome.

  15. Has Manchin really disliked DCA planes flying over “Almost Heaven” on the Potomac? Manchin is never going to amount to being the legend that Byrd was, and Manchin started off in DC as an obstacle from the beginning but in way less effective ways than Byrd was. And you know what they say about old dogs, their habits and new tricks? That’s Manchin. Against his wishes, he knows he is going off into the sunset of being politically irrelevant, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for career politicians like him.

  16. Listed last but what this really is first and foremost for him and his trying to show some relevance while he still has any left is to be found in this:

    “decrease access to areas like WV that rely on this airport for economic opportunities.”

    I think the guy wants a special flight deal for himself that lasts years beyond his retirement to make it easier for himself and others to be able to fly more easily between DCA and wherever it is in WV that he wants a flight or more flights.

    Sure, it’s possible to drive from DC to WV — I used to do it a lot to enjoy the beauty of the state — but maybe his family and friends aren’t as eager to make the drive as to fly via an airport to see him when he’s gone from the Senate. That said, many of the career politicians from “less exciting” places seem to retire in Virginia after they become politically irrelevant. I personally find it disappointing, but in many cases their whole social universe and much of their family life has shifted to being anchored in the DC area and then that is where they spend most or all of their dying days too.

  17. I think what he’s upset about is Skywest terminating EAS services at Clarksburg (CKB) and Lewisburg (LWB). Read some stories on that. Put those flights back (even if they go to Dulles instead of DCA) and I bet he flips back.

  18. This is my guess. It’s probably about an under the table deal with Jim Justice about LWB. Justice needs better service to The Greenbriar Resort as the Justice family owns it. Drive time from DC is over 4 hours, air service is a nightmare. The huge conference center at the Greenbriar is missing out on a lot of government business and Justice wants the senate seat. They have both accused each other of being on the take but politics makes strange bedfellows.

  19. Drop the new exemptions . All focus should be on making Dulles the best airport for the nations capital. National should be left as is and in the long run shut down

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