Opinion: Adding more flights from D.C. to Salt Lake City is good for Utah’s economy

As the state with the highest rated economy in the country and the fastest growing population, Utah businesses and residents deserve increased access to our nation’s capital.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A view from the new Airport Plaza, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. In less than a year the Salt Lake City Department of Airports will open the first phase of the new Salt Lake International Airport.

The Economic Development Corporation of Utah’s (EDCUtah) mission is to catalyze economic opportunity and quality jobs in Utah. Since EDCUtah’s founding in 1987, it has enjoyed a front seat to our state’s remarkable economic growth as Utah has become the nation’s top economy.

Maintaining this competitive position involves rethinking current policies in an era of rapid growth, including those that affect our vibrant international airport, which supports Utah’s dynamic industries and increased population. Unfortunately, a decades-old regulation in Washington, D.C., stands in the way of improving flight access to our nation’s capital.

The antiquated policy known as the “perimeter rule” limits the number of long-distance direct flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation, the number of flights originating from or traveling to destinations outside an artificial 1,250-mile perimeter around DCA is capped despite the airport’s capacity to receive more. Salt Lake City International Airport offers many direct flights to some of the busiest airports in the nation, yet daily flight service is limited to one nonstop flight to DCA per day. As the fastest growing state in the nation, Utah’s industry and residents are being held back by this outdated regulation from the 1960s.

Access to direct flights can have an outsized influence on where firms choose to operate and invest. Travel must be convenient and affordable as we compete with other states to attract and retain the most innovative companies. Modernizing this travel policy will encourage business executives and entrepreneurs to create more jobs in Utah. This is particularly the case for industries critical to Utah that are subject to substantial federal regulation such as aerospace, defense, deep tech and financial services. Businesses in these sectors require continual interaction with policy makers and regulators in Washington, D.C.

The perimeter rule was created as a protectionist policy intended to support growth at other airports near Washington, D.C., but has since become obsolete and places an undue burden on Utah’s business community, residents and visitors alike traveling to and from the nation’s capital. The lack of competition results in inflated ticket prices, longer flight times and fewer choices for consumers. In fact, flights to the capital region are the most expensive compared to the country’s top ten metropolitan regions.

Congress is currently working to reform the outdated regulation through the FAA Reauthorization bill in the U.S. Senate. We thank Utah’s U.S. Representatives Burgess Owens (UT-04), who has been working tirelessly to bring about this change, Blake Moore (UT-01) and John Curtis (UT-03) for voicing their support. In addition, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have been championing an agreement to increase the number of flights at DCA. We hope the bipartisan amendment will be included in the FAA Reauthorization bill and that Utah’s full congressional delegation will show their support.

As the state with the highest rated economy in the country and the fastest growing population, Utah businesses and residents deserve increased access to our nation’s capital. Modernizing the perimeter rule to allow more direct flights to DCA will create a more convenient, affordable travel experience to the seat of the U.S. federal government, boosting Utah’s business potential.

Scott Cuthbertson

Scott Cuthbertson is the president and CEO of EDCUtah.

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