Amazon’s second headquarters in Northern Virginia does not mean more flights to and from Reagan National Airport. That’s according to Arlington Now, which says DCA is already serving 24 million passengers per year compared to the original design for 15 million. Airlines may serve Dulles Aiport with more flights, and that matches local stakeholders’ hope for Amazon’s National Landing choice.
Ronald Reagan National Airport Won’t Add Flights for Amazon Arrival
According to ArlNow:
“Despite the tech giant setting up shop right across from the airport in the newly dubbed ‘National Landing,’ all parties involved believe that DCA is a bit too crowded to start welcoming passengers bound for the new headquarters.
‘We’re really a constrained airport in terms of size, gate availability and runway capacity,’ Andrew Trull, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, told ARLnow. ‘We just are not anticipating more flights heading toward Reagan.’”
DCA now serves 42 percent more passengers than it was ever designed for:
“Trull notes that any airline looking to expand at National should consider that airport was designed to serve 15 million passengers a year, but currently welcomes about 24 million annually.”
DCA is already in the process of increasing space, but the added facilities are gates for flights that already come there. The improvements finally fix the 35X dumpster fire:
”[DCA’s over-capacity passenger crunch] prompt the airport’s major ‘Project Journey’ renovations, which will ultimately eliminate the infamous regional gate ‘35X’ in favor of new, dedicated space for those flights. ‘A lot of people are wondering if it will add capacity, but the answer is ‘No,’” Trull said. “We see it as an improvement to the passenger experience… because we’re already dealing with so many people.’”
Physics and Logistics Limit DCA’s Expansion
Airlines may pursue flight slots into DCA, and existing carriers may modify their uses of slots:
“Though the number of flights may not increase in the coming years, Trull said it is possible that airlines could start flying larger planes into DCA to keep pace with rising demand. For instance, airlines could replace smaller, regional jets on certain routes with much larger planes instead, a change that Trull says would be allowed under the “slot” rules. ‘We could see an increase in capacity without an increase in the number of flights,’ Trull said. Executives with American Airlines have even begun publicly discussing such a possibility in recent days, and kicked off discussions with Amazon officials about which routes employees might start choosing as the company moves to Arlington.”
That’s all fine and good, but hard caps limit DCA, such as the number of two runways and the size of those runways: 5,200 ft and 7,170 ft—all 150 ft wide. In general, heavier and larger capacity aircraft need longer, bigger runways to take off and land. There are other variables like altitude that affect landing feasibility, but the critical thing to remember is that National Airport is a mid-size operation. Plus, even if you could land marginally more, bigger plans there, it’s already a crowded airfield and what do you do with the plane after it lands? An ArlNow commenter sums it up:
“In addition to slot controls, and runway limitations, the current gate configurations are limited in what combinations of aircraft can fit. Even if American could land and take off 777’s, they cannot have 777’s at every gate under current configurations. ... the hub and spoke model for airlines[:] The equipment serving any given United flight to its Chicago hub or Delta flight to its Minneapolis hub (or any flight to a hub) has been size-optimized with connecting traffic in mind, and that may militate for a smaller jet.”
Dulles Airport Will (May?) Rise to Meet Airline Travel Demands from Amazon
“Trull points out that the MWAA [the authority that manages IAD & DCA] has specifically worked to make Dulles ‘more competitive’ in recent years, including major renovations to the airport and the (still ongoing) extension of Metro’s Silver Line to reach Dulles. Accordingly, he sees the Loudoun airport as the region’s ‘primary growth airport with upside potential’ now that Amazon is in town.
Gibbs adds that Dulles will indeed be the main place that United ramps up service in the coming years, particularly because it offers international flights that will likely be attractive to a global company like Jeff Bezos’ bunch.
‘One of the criteria Amazon raised with us was the proximity to the airport, but also to the two other airports in this region, with that benefit of global accessibility specifically,’ Alex Iams, assistant director of Arlington Economic Development, said during a Dec. 6 question-and-answer session on Amazon.”
The good news here is that WMATA will, at some point, finish Phase II of the Silver Line and Metrorail will serve Dulles Airport. However, as of today’s news, Metro’s connection to Dulles will slip into 2020 at the earliest thanks to ongoing construction issues.