Mr. McCain.  Mr. President, I am pleased to be joined by Senator Ensign in introducing the “Abolishing Aviation Barriers Act of 2009.”  This bill would remove the arbitrary restrictions that prevent Americans from having an array of options for non-stop air travel between airports in Western states and LaGuardia International Airport (“LaGuardia”) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (“Washington National”). 

LaGuardia restricts the departure or arrival of non-stop flights to or from airports that are farther then 1,500 miles from LaGuardia.  Washington National has a similar restriction for non-stop flights to or from airports 1,250 miles from Washington National.  These restrictions are commonly referred to as the “perimeter rule.”  This bill would abolish these archaic limitations that reduce consumers’ options for convenient flights and competitive fares. 

The original purpose of the perimeter rule was to promote LaGuardia and Washington National as airports for business travelers flying to and from East Coast and Midwest cities and to promote traffic to other airports by diverting long haul flights to Newark and Kennedy airports in the New York area and the Dulles airport in the Washington area.  However, over the years, Congress has granted numerous exceptions to the perimeter rule because the air traveling public is eager for travel options.  Today, there are nonstop flights between LaGuardia and Denver and between Washington National and Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Seattle.  Rather then continuing to take a piece meal approach to promoting consumer choice, I urge Congress to take this opportunity once and for all to do away with this outdated rule.

I continue to believe that Americans should have access to air travel at the lowest possible cost and with the most convenience for their schedule.  Therefore, I have always advocated for the removal of any artificial barrier that prevents free market competition.  In 2004, I co-sponsored legislation to repeal the “Wright Amendment” which prohibited flights from Dallas’ Love Field airport to 43 states.  This year, I am proud to once again join together with my colleagues to eliminate another unnecessary restraint through the “Abolishing Aviation Barriers Act of 2009.”

A 1999 study by the Transportation Research Board, the most recent available, stated that perimeter rules “no longer serve their original purpose and have produced too many adverse side effects, including barriers to competition … The rules arbitrarily prevent some airlines from extending their networks to these airports; they discourage competition among the airports in the region and among the airlines that use these airports; and they are subject to chronic attempts by special interest groups to obtain exemptions.”  That same year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that the “practical effect” of the perimeter rule “has been to limit entry” of other carriers and found that airfares at LaGuardia and Washington National are approximately 50 percent higher on average than fares at similar airports unconstrained by the perimeter rule.  Such an anticompetitive rule should not remain in effect, particularly where its anticompetitive impact has long been recognized. 

For this reason, Mr. President, I will continue the struggle to try to remove the perimeter rule and other anti-competitive restrictions that increase consumer costs and decrease convenience for no apparent benefit.