Airlines could pick up eight more nonstop routes to the western half of the US from Washington National airport under a new legislative proposal.
The slot-pair exemptions to the perimeter rule banning stage-lengths beyond 2,315km (1,250nm) from the US capitol's secondary airport was tucked inside a long-awaited agreement to reauthorise appropriations for the Federal Aviation Administration.
If the reauthorisation bill is approved by both chambers, Washington National's exemptions to the perimeter rule would increase by 75% and open up several new markets, such as possibly San Francisco and San Diego.
The perimeter rule was imposed in the 1960s to limit Washington National to short-haul flights, which allowed Washington Dulles to own a near-monopoly on nonstop transcontinental flights.
Five airlines - Alaska, Delta, Frontier, United and US Airways -- have been granted 12 slot-pair exemptions since the rule was adopted to fly nonstop to six western US cities. The markets served include Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
But subsequent attempts to increase the number of exemptions and nonstop markets beyond the 1,250nm perimeter met resistance from certain competitors with hubs at Dulles, such as United, and local political leaders concerned about increased noise.
The agreement on the proposed 2012 FAA reauthorisation bill includes a measure seeking to break through the logjam.
The bill proposes to award half of the eight slot-pairs to incumbent carriers and the other half to new carriers.