DISCLAIMER: This is a geography and travel blog, not a political blog. No endorsement or disparagement is intended.
Later today I get to take the John McCain flight. No, I don’t get to fly with John McCain. I’m talking about the regularly-scheduled flight that is a small part of his political legacy.
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Washington, DC‘s National Airport opened for business in 1941. Runways were fine for the turboprops of the time but they were a bit on the short end when jet aircraft became common in subsequent decades. Lengthening the runways wasn’t much of an option because large parts of the airport had been built on dirt dumped into the Potomac River and there was only so much river one could fill. Residents didn’t really want this either. Jets made lots of noise. They didn’t want to encourage additional flights over their homes.
The solution was to build a gigantic airport in the middle of nowhere, in a spot far enough removed from the city to not disturb anyone, but close enough so that people would actually use it. Thus, Dulles Airport rose from cornfields astride the Fairfax County / Loudoun County border in 1962, twenty six miles outside of the city. Today that’s a heavily populated area so that may seem odd to recent arrivals, but at the time this was remote farm country.
As envisioned the bulk of airline capacity that would serve the metropolitan area and the larger, louder long-haul jets would use Dulles. National Airport would serve fewer flights and more localized traffic. A “perimeter rule” came into being – National Airport flights could only operate within a 650 mile radius (with a few grandfathered exceptions to 1,000 miles), later relaxed to 1,250 miles.
Over the 1980’s and 1990’s, Dulles became successful in its own right. Jets also became quieter. Washington traffic got a lot worse and Dulles became rather inconvenient for eastern portions of the larger metropolitan area. Airlines were trying to expand their bases, and America West had its eyes on the east coast of the United States.
John McCain introduced legislation to remove the perimeter rule in 1999. Some say this was because he was an Arizona Senator trying to help the business interests of an Arizona-based corporation. That’s probably true. All politics is local. I’m sure the ability to take a convenient non-stop flight back from Washington to see his constituents probably helped too. Regardless, Mr. McCain managed to crack the perimeter rule for five destinations in 2000, and one of those five was America West to Phoenix(*).
America West and US Airways merged in 2005, and continued under the US Airways moniker. The flight to Phoenix became a US Airways flight. I don’t call it pork-barreled politics, I call it a blessedly non-stop flight to Phoenix without hassling through a layover in Atlanta, Dallas or Chicago. Thank you John McCain.
* By the way, the Wikipedia entry for this is wrong. Refer instead to the GAO’s 2007 report, REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT- Update on Capacity to Handle Additional Flights and Impact on Other Area Airports. Additionally I have personal know that Wikipedia is in error because I’ve taken this flight before, including prior to 2004.