San Antonio airport to push for direct flight to DC’s Reagan Washington National following House passage of FAA bill

The major bill allows for five additional flights in and out of the airport, located just miles from Capitol Hill.

SAN ANTONIO — With a bill allowing more direct flights to Reagan Washington National Airport now on its way to President Joe Biden’s desk, San Antonio is taxiing the proverbial runway, preparing to mount its bid for something officials have long dreamt of: daily service to the airport located just a few miles from Capitol Hill. 

Congress gave final approval Wednesday to the $105 billion bill also designed to increase the number of air traffic controllers, add more safety inspectors at aircraft factories and require airlines to automatically pay refunds to travelers whose flights are canceled or significantly delayed. 

The House passed the measure to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs by a 387-26 margin and sent it to President Joe Biden. The Senate passed the measure last week.

One of the most contentious issues turned out to be the addition of 10 long-haul flights a day to and from Reagan National Airport. Lawmakers from Virginia and Maryland tried to kill the provision.

Rep. Donald Beyer, D-Va., said the extra flights would “aggravate dangerous conditions” and cause more flight delays at the busy airport across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital. But lawmakers from Western states, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fought for the flights, as did Delta Air Lines.

The ongoing effort to provide San Antonio travelers with a direct flight to Reagan – essentially the doorstep of the nation’s capital – has proven to be a bipartisan issue among Texas’ elected officials, with Cruz, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro all in support. They have cited San Antonio’s strong military presence and cybersecurity industries as reasons that it should have the connection. 

“I’m glad to see that progress come through after years of bipartisan work,” Castro said in a statement following the House’s vote. “After President Biden signs this reauthorization into law, I look forward to working with our delegation to make sure San Antonio secures the direct flights we need to support our servicemembers and bring more jobs and business to our city.” 

It’s ultimately the U.S. Department of Transportation that awards which airlines get the new slots in and out of Reagan, consisting of 10 flights in all. Officials with the Greater San Antonio Chamber say the department will have 60 days to review applications after Biden signs the bill. 

San Antonio International intends to be among those applications. Airport officials say they’re teaming up with American Airlines to throw their hat in the ring. 

“We have been working for more than a decade to give residents of America’s seventh-largest city the same access to our nation’s leaders as nearly every other major city in the country,” Nirenberg is quoted as saying in a release. “I am grateful for the hard work of Senator Cruz and our entire congressional delegation and look forward to Secretary Buttigieg’s approval of American’s application to initiate nonstop service from Military City USA to DCA.”

The final version of the law authorizing FAA and National Transportation Safety Board programs for the next five years checked in at more than 1,000 pages. Congress has been critical of the FAA since it approved Boeing 737 Max jets that were involved in two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.

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