A History of the Perimeter Rule at Washington Reagan National Airport

November 17, 1962 – Dulles Airport opens for business, but National Airport (DCA), 26 miles closer to the District line and far more convenient for almost everyone, remains open.

July 1, 1966 – The FAA issues a policy statement (31 Fed. Reg. 9148) declaring that air carriers should not operate nonstop flights between National Airport and airports more than 500 statute miles away, to become effective on August 7, 1966. This policy would have precluded Atlanta Hartsfield (546 miles) and both Chicago airports (circa 600 miles) from having nonstop access to DCA.

July 27, 1966 – The FAA preempts that policy with a proposed rule (31 Fed. Reg. 10199) implementing a voluntary deal negotiated between the airlines and the Civil Aeronautics Board. The regulation, which also places hourly takeoff/landing slot controls on Washington National, increases the perimeter from 500 statute miles to 650 statute miles, effective September 1, 1966. Six cities that had nonstop service to National that were more than 650 statue miles away but less than 1,000 statute miles away as of 1965 were grandfathered and allowed to maintain service: Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach. The rulemaking is never finalized, but the airlines abide by it, even though it did not have the full force of law or regulation behind it.

January 1, 1970 – President Nixon signs the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law. Later that year, a coalition of local opponents to National Airport’s noise (“Virginians for Dulles”) files a federal lawsuit under NEPA, arguing that a full environmental impact statement needed to be performed.

February 2, 1972 – The FAA withdraws the July 1966 proposed rulemaking because the DCA-only slots provision had become obsolete. (37 Fed. Reg. 3059) From then on, the agreed-upon DCA perimeter rule was put in the biweekly NOTAMs that all pilots are required to read before flying, but still did not have the formal force of law or permanent regulation behind it.

June 2, 1976 – the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decides Virginians for Dulles v. Volpe (541 F. 2nd 442) and orders that the FAA file an environmental impact statement on its operation of National and Dulles airports.

March 23, 1978 – The FAA issues a notice of proposed policy and an environmental impact statement (43 Fed. Reg. 12141) and sticks with the existing perimeter rule: “The 650-mile perimeter restriction for nonstop airline service will continue to apply at National except for the seven ‘grandfather’ cities.”

January 15, 1980 – After reviewing public comment, the EPA issues a revised EIS and a proposed rule (45 Fed. Reg. 4314) that lists several different options for a perimeter rule: 650 miles with no exceptions, the current law 650 miles with seven grandfathered cities, and 1,000 miles with no exceptions. Hearings are held and public comment received.

August 15, 1980 – Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt announces a new MWAA airport policy and proposed rulemaking (45 Fed. Reg. 62398), changing slot rules and extending the perimeter from 650 statute miles to 1,000 statute miles, with no exceptions: “We anticipate that the carriers will provide nonstop service to four new cities in addition to the approximately 55 presently so served: Birmingham, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, and New Orleans.” The rule is to become effective January 5, 1981.

September 22, 1980 – The City of Houston and American Airlines file lawsuits challenging the new perimeter rule.

October 9, 1980 – Congress enacts a rider in the FY 1981 DOT Appropriations Act (sec. 328 of 94 Stat. 1681) that prohibits the FAA from changing DCA slot rules until April 26, 1981. In response, the FAA delayed the effective date of the entire rule, including the new 1,000-mile perimeter rule, until that date (45 Fed. Reg. 71251).

March 24, 1981 – The new Transportation Secretary, Drew Lewis, delays the effective date of the new MWAA rules by six months (46 Fed. Reg. 19225), citing delays in the allocation of slots.

May 5, 1981 – American Airlines notifies the FAA that, American would begin nonstop service from DFW to DCA on June 11, 1981. Braniff quickly announced identical service to begin on June 1, and Pan Am then announced nonstop Houston to DCA service. DFW and Houston are more than 1,000 statute miles from National. The airlines hoped to get service started before the FAA could finish implementing the 1,000-mile perimeter rule regulation begun by the Carter Administration.

May 8, 1981 – In response to American, Braniff, and Pan Am, Secretary Lewis issues a proposed rule (46 Fed. Reg. 26358) codifying the existing 650-mile rule with grandfathered exceptions, with comments due May 19.

May 28, 1981 – The final rule making the 650-mile perimeter (with exceptions) legally binding is printed in the Federal Register (46 Fed. Reg. 18632), preventing airlines from implementing nonstop service to DFW and Houston.

July 8, 1981 – Transportation Secretary Lewis issues a new proposed rule as part of the previous process begun in 1978 (46 Fed. Reg. 36067) sticking with the 1,000 mile perimeter.

November 23, 1981 – The FAA issues the final DCA regulation (46 Fed. Reg. 58036) that extends the perimeter from 650 statute miles to 1,000 statute miles, without exceptions.

July 9, 1982 – The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decides City of Houston v. FAA (679 F. 2d. 1184) and determines that the FAA had the constitutional and legal authority to issue the perimeter rule and that the rule was not “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act.

April 9, 1986 – During Senate consideration of a bill (S. 1017, 99th Congress) to transfer ownership of the two federally-owned DC-area airports, the Senate agrees to a Bentsen (D-TX) amendment (SA #1739) to put a perimeter rule for Washington National Airport into law and set it as 1,250 miles, with no exceptions (1,250 miles being just long enough to allow nonstop access to DFW and both Houston airports). The Senate agrees to the amendment by voice vote (132 Cong. Rec. 6986) and the bill passes the Senate later that month.

June 17, 1986 – The leadership of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee introduces their own Washington airports transfer bill (H.R. 5040, 99th Congress) that includes, in section 216, a statutory codification of the existing perimeter rule (1,000 statute miles, no exceptions). The bill never advances to the House floor.

October 3, 1986 – Sen. John Warner (R-VA) offers an amendment (SA #3185) to the year-end omnibus continuing appropriations resolution (H. J. Res. 738, 99th Congress) to add the text of the Senate-passed DC airports bill, but with the statutory perimeter rule reduced to 1,000 miles. After a point of order by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR) that the amendment was not germane was overruled by a vote of 63 to 35., the Warner amendment was agreed to by voice vote (132 Cong. Rec. 28735).

October 15, 1986 – House and Senate conferees file a conference report on the omnibus/CR, and part of the deal is that the House has to add a version of the DC airports bill that includes the original Senate 1,250-mile perimeter rule for DCA. The House agrees by a vote of 250-135. (132 Cong. Rec. 32127-32144) The Senate concurs in the whole deal two days later, and the 1,250-mile rule is ensconced in law as section 6012 of Public Law 99-500 on October 18, 1986.

1996 – Senate Aviation Subcommittee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) is unable to convince his Commerce Committee colleagues to accept his proposal to abolish the perimeter rule as part of that year’s FAA reauthorization legislation (S. 1994, 104th Congress). The perimeter rule is not addressed in the House companion bill (H.R. 3539, 104th Congress) either.

January 19, 1999 – Now chairman of the full Commerce Committee, Senator McCain introduces his own FAA reauthorization bill (S. 82, 106th Congress), section 507 of which directs the Secretary of Transportation to allow 12 new takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National, outside the perimeter, under certain conditions. The bill is reported to the Senate on March 8 but the Senate waits for the House before considering the bill.

March 4, 1999 – House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Bud Shuster (R-PA) introduces that chamber’s FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 1000, 106th Congress) that makes no changes to the perimeter rule. The bill makes it all the way through the House on June 15 without being amended to affect the perimeter rule.

March 8, 2000 – The House-Senate conference committee on H.R. 1000 reports a compromise version of the bill, section 231(e) of which adds a new 49 U.S.C. §41718 which was basically the Senate’s version of slot exemptions (12 new outside-perimeter slots to be picked by the Secretary, subject to conditions). H.R. 1000 becomes Public Law 106-181 on April 5, 2000.

July 5, 2000 – USDOT issues Order 2000-7-1, awarding the 12 outside-perimeter slots from the 2000 law to America West (two daily round-trips DCA-Phoenix and one daily roundtrip DCA-Las Vegas), TWA (one daily round-trip DCA-Los Angeles), Frontier (one daily round-trip DCA-Denver), and National Airlines (one daily round-trip DCA-Las Vegas).

June 22, 2001 – After TWA gives up its daily DCA-Los Angeles slots during bankruptcy, USDOT issues Order 2001-6-20 awarding those two outside-perimeter DCA slots to Alaska Airlines to use for DCA-Seattle.

Nov 27, 2002 – After National Airlines ceases operations, forfeiting its daily DCA-Las Vegas slots, USDOT issues Order 2002-11-20 transferring its two outside-perimeter slots to Delta to use for DCA-Salt Lake City.

April 8, 2003 – The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee, still under chairman McCain, introduce S. 824 (108th Congress), which does not (as introduced) address the perimeter rule.

May 1, 2003 – The Senate bill (S. 824) is amended in a May 1 committee markup to add an additional 12 slots at DCA outside the perimeter (an additional 6 daily round-trips).

May 15, 2003 – The bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduce H.R. 2115 (108th Congress), the FAA reauthorization bill. Section 411 of that bill adds 24 more slots (12 round-trips) outside the perimeter rule. The House passes the bill with that provision intact (as section 412) on June 11.

June 12, 2003 – In order to get the FAA bill to the Senate floor (around opposition from the Virginia Senators and others), McCain and other Commerce leaders propose a manager’s amendment  (SA #889) that, among other things, strikes the new outside-perimeter slot exemptions from the Senate bill. The manager’s amendment, and the bill, pass the Senate.

July 25, 2003 – The House-Senate conferees on H.R. 2115 include a provision that allows 12 new daily outside-perimeter slots (six round trips), splitting the difference between the House-passed 24 slots and the Senate-passed zero slots. After some delays (and a second conference report), H.R. 2115 becomes Public Law 108-176 (see section 425(a) for the slot exemptions).

April 1, 2004 – USDOT issues Order 2004-4-1, allocating the 12 daily slot exemptions outside the perimeter from the 2003 law to Alaska Airlines (one daily round trip DCA-Seattle and one daily round-trip DCA-Los Angeles), America West (one daily round-trip DCA-Phoenix), Frontier (two daily round-trips DCA-Denver), and United (two daily round-trips DCA-Denver).

January 27, 2011 – After 4 years of gridlock, Senate Commerce chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) reintroduces his FAA reauthorization bill (S. 223, 112th Congress) which does not address the DCA perimeter rule.

February 11, 2011 – House Republicans again introduce their FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 658, 112th Congress), section 423 of which would add 10 new daily slots (5 round-trips) outside the perimeter, but in a nod to DC-area legislators, it would also reduce the number of within-perimeter daily slots by the same amount. This language remains intact as the House passes the bill on April 1.

February 15, 2011 – While the Senate is debating S. 223, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) modifies an unrelated amendment he had offered days before, so that the new amendment allows 24 additional slots (12 daily extra round-trips) to/from DCA inside or outside the perimeter. Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) quickly files an almost identical amendment to Inhofe’s amendment and then files cloture. (Pages S732-S735 here).

February 17, 2011 – The Senate modifies the Inhofe language by unanimous consent and then passes the bill. (Pages S814-S816 here).

February 1, 2012 – House-Senate conferees on S. 658 agree to file their conference report, which includes in section 414 language allowing 16 new daily slots outside the perimeter – half new slots (for new entrant carriers) and half for airlines with existing slots inside the perimeter that can be converted to outside-perimeter slots. The bill is signed into law on February 14 as Public Law 112-95.

Various times in spring 2012 – The major airlines selected their four daily round-trips inside the perimeter to convert to outside-perimeter round trips: American (traded one of its daily DFW round-trips for LAX); Delta (traded a LaGuardia for a Salt Lake City); United (traded one O’Hare for a San Francisco); and US Airways (traded a DFW for a San Diego).

May 14, 2012 – USDOT issues Order 2012-5-12, which awards the eight new entrant slots outside the perimeter for four daily round-trips: Alaska Airlines for a daily round-trip between DCA and Portland, Oregon; JetBlue for a daily round trip DCA-San Juan, Southwest for a daily round trip DCA-Austin, and Virgin America for a daily round-trip DCA-San Francisco.

January 15, 2014 – American Airlines, which had taken over US Airways, notifies USDOT that it is exchanging US Airways’ perimeter rule slot exemption from the 2012 law from a daily DCA-San Diego roundtrip to a daily DCA-LAX roundtrip.

October 4, 2016 – Delta notifies USDOT that it is exchanging its perimeter rule slot exemption from the 2012 law from a daily DCA-Salt Lake City roundtrip to a daily DCA-Los Angeles roundtrip.

April 24, 2018 – Alaska Airlines and Virgin America complete their merger, and Alaska takes over its DCA-SFO outside-perimeter slot exemptions.

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