Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate agreed to add 16 daily round-trip flights between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the western U.S., settling a dispute that helped delay an aviation funding bill for more than three years.
The agreement announced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, clears the way for approval as early as today of a $34.6 billion bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration for two years. There are currently 12 flights between the airport and the western U.S.
“We do now have a breakthrough and a way forward,” Hutchison said on the Senate floor. The deal is not complete because senators must agree during a House-Senate conference committee later this year on how the government will decide which cites in the western U.S. will get the new flights.
The Senate plan also needs to be reconciled with House lawmakers’ views. The House version of the FAA legislation approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday allows just five additional flights linking Reagan and the western U.S.
The number of long-distance flights to Reagan National has been limited since 1966 due to noise concerns, and to bolster growth at Washington Dulles International Airport. The limit adopted by Congress in 1986 allows 12 flights beyond a perimeter that splits the U.S. into eastern and western segments.
Cities that now get the flights include Denver with four, Phoenix with three, Seattle with two, and one each at Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Carriers with those flights include US Airways Group Inc. with four, Alaska Air Group Inc. and Republic Airways Holdings Inc.’s Frontier Airlines with three each, and Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. and with one each.
The agreement described by Hutchison allows carriers with seven flights from Reagan to cities within the perimeter to instead move them to cities outside the boundary. Five new beyond-perimeter flights would be added for carriers with little or no service to Reagan. Four would be added sometime later if studies show they would not add to congestion, Hutchison said.
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