Why groups are fighting over obscure 1960s-era ‘slot and perimeter’ rules at a Virginia airport
Virginia Mercury • BY: SARAH VOGELSONG – JUNE 2, 2023
This spring has seen increased bickering in Northern Virginia over two little-known aviation regulations called the slot and perimeter rules, which govern operations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington County. What exactly are they — and why are people fighting over them? Read on to figure out what you need to know.
What is the perimeter rule?
The perimeter rule limits the distance of nonstop flights to and from Reagan National to 1,250 miles — roughly the distance westward to Kansas and Nebraska and as far north as Quebec and Newfoundland.
Initially set at 650 miles in 1966 and then later increased, the perimeter was intended to help reduce congestion at Reagan National and encourage use of the much larger Dulles International Airport in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
The rule allowed Congress to pass exemptions to the perimeter, which it has done three times, in 2000, 2003 and 2012. (Congress has a special interest in both Reagan National and Dulles because the federal government owns them, with operations managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, known as MWAA.)
Those exemptions have opened up Reagan to 40 daily flights — or 20 round trips — to and from Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Austin and San Juan. A November 2020 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found these flights increased passenger traffic at Reagan National and “likely reduced” some of the airport’s existing capacity.