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Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Traveler Update on Coronavirus

Reagan National Slot Divestiture, Record Passenger Growth Present Key Challenges for Washington’s Airports

Published: January 15, 2014

Federal Regulatory Changes, Airline Mergers, Completion of Silver Line
Among Major Issues for Airports Authority in 2014


Federal regulatory changes are driving substantial shifts in the number of passengers using Dulles International Airport and the federally regulated Reagan National Airport, creating new challenges for both facilities in 2014, executives of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority told its board of directorsWednesday.

“The increase in passengers at Reagan National is being driven largely by regulatory decisions that have prompted some airlines to switch flights from Dulles to Reagan,” President and CEO Jack Potter said. “This is putting significant strain on Reagan’s facilities and continues to negatively impact the number of domestic passengers at Dulles. This will be a top issue in 2014 for our airports.”

In 2013, passenger traffic at Reagan National will exceed 20 million, well in excess of the 15 to 16 million passengers the airport has traditionally served, and the fourth consecutive year of record passenger levels. Over the past decade the airport has seen a 14 percent increase in passenger traffic.

Reagan is one of the few U.S. airports where the number of takeoffs and landings are controlled by federal permits known as “slots.” The addition of new slots in recent years, coupled with larger aircraft using those slots, is a key factor in Reagan’s growth.

The increase in passengers at Reagan has come at the expense of domestic service at Dulles. Airlines have chosen to move flights from Dulles to Reagan as new slots have become available. 2013 was the fourth consecutive year of domestic passenger traffic decline for Dulles. Domestic travel at the airport is down 32 percent over the past decade.

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Margaret McKeough described trends and conditions affecting passenger traffic at both airports and their financial implications.

“We are awaiting final word on the specific changes at both Reagan National and Dulles International as a result of the US Airways / American Airlines merger,” McKeough said. “We anticipate new flights, new destinations and new passengers in coming years. Published reports suggested that as many as 2 million additional passengers or more will use Reagan National each year as a result of the mandated slot reallocation. In large part, we expect those new passengers to come at the expense of Dulles Airport.”

Potter also discussed progress in completing work on the first phase of the Silver Line extension of the Washington area’s Metrorail mass transit system, which the Airports Authority is building. The Authority and its contractors have successfully completed testing of the Automated Train Control system, a critical component that needed software modifications.

“We are now ready to take the next step, which is a full-scale System Performance Demonstration,” Potter said. “This is an extensive and important test that must be conducted at a time when the Metro system is running minimal passenger service, which means during the overnight hours on a weekend. Under our current plan, we expect to conduct the System Performance Demonstration during the weekend of the 25th and 26th of January.”

Successful completion of that test will allow the contractor to proceed towards a declaration of substantial completion of Phase 1 and eventually allow the Airports Authority to turn over the project to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the Metro system.

The January meeting of the Airports Authority board of directors also marked the first meeting as chairman for Frank M. Conner III, who succeeded Michael Curto at the start of this year.

“It’s a great honor to work with the board, the staff and our partners who help us to do so many things well. We have accomplished a lot and I’m happy to be at the helm,” Conner said, praising Curto for his leadership during two years as chairman. “As we move forward, we will continue to focus on our customers and the strategic challenges that lay ahead.”

The November air traffic statistics for Reagan and Dulles were also presented at the January meeting. A detailed breakdown of the November Air Traffic Statistics can be found here.

The two airports together served 3.3 million passengers in November, down 5.1 percent from the previous year. The decline in passenger traffic in November is in large part attributed to Thanksgiving occurring later than in the previous year, which caused many passengers to extend their travel into December. In November, Dulles International was down 4.4 percent versus the previous year and was down slightly in international passenger traffic for the first time in 12 months. However, Dulles is still on pace to set a record for international travel in 2013. Reagan National passenger traffic was down 5.9 percent for the month compared to 2012, but continues to show significant gains for the year.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, established in 1987 by the governments of Virginia and the District of Columbia, manages and operates Washington’s Ronald Reagan National and Dulles International airports, which together serve more than 40 million passengers a year. The Airports Authority also operates and maintains the Dulles Airport Access Road and the Dulles Toll Road and manages construction of the Silver Line project, a 23-mile extension of the Washington region’s Metrorail system into Loudoun County, Va. No tax dollars are used to operate the toll road, which is funded by toll revenues, or the airports, which are funded through aircraft landing fees, rents and revenues from concessions. The Silver Line construction is funded by a combination of toll-road revenues, airport contributions and federal, state and local government appropriations. The Airports Authority is led by a 17-member board of directors appointed by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and the president of the United States.