Photo by Scorpions and Centaurs on Flickr.

Last year, members of the United States Senate were threatening to take over Metro if they didn’t get what they wanted. Now, they’re making those threats against the local airport authority, because it isn’t acceding to western senators’ demands to allow longer distance flights at National Airport.

WTOP reports that Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are calling for hearings into the the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), its governance and finances after officials defended the rules limiting long-distance flights.

MWAA officials said adding flights at Dulles National and replacing other short-range flights with flights to the west will reduce traffic at Dulles and impact revenue expected from the Silver Line. They also argued that the airport’s parking, security screening and baggage handling couldn’t handle the additional demand.

Local senators, led by Mark Warner (D-VA) have been protecting the rule, which is popular in Arlington because it limits noise from aircraft. Last time we had this debate, though, commenters pointed out that relaxing the rule would lead to more midday flights, not night flights (since National’s slot limitations only apply during the day), and that larger planes aren’t as loud as they once were.

Virginia and Maryland’s senators also are mostly protecting Dulles and BWI, wanting to drive as much traffic there. Each airport is more convenient to more of their constituents but less convenient to DC. More remote airports also drive sprawl, creating incentives for large office parks to locate near the airport but very distant from the rest of the region.

Meanwhile, unless the plan has changed, it would replace some amount of micromanaging at National with other micromanaging by different senators. For example, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) included tried to include a provision requiring four small carriers to fly to West Texas, likely not the area with the highest travel demand to and from DC.

It’s be great if hearings into MWAA looked into another important issue: Why MWAA is less transparent and accountable to local residents than other governing bodies. When MWAA decided to take away funding for Fairfax Connector buses along the Dulles Toll Road and prioritize freeway construction, there was little accountability. Unfortunately, when these senators talk about accountability, they naturally just mean accountability to them.

What do you think?

Update: Joe Brenckle from the Republican side of the Commerce Committee explained some details of the current proposal. It does not include Senator Hutchison’s suggested amendment requiring some flights to West Texas. It would add 5 flights to go to “new entrant or limited incumbent air carriers” which could go outside the perimeter, and allow up to 16 existing flights to be changed to ones beyond the perimeter.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.