Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport already has surpassed the number of monthly aircraft seats that were available to passengers during pre-pandemic times, and Washington Dulles International Airport is likely to do so by late summer or early fall, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
At Reagan National, aircraft seats were up 4 percent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period of 2019, with second-quarter seats expected to be up 5 percent and third-quarter availability up 9 percent.
The drumbeat is led by the airport’s dominant tenant, American Airlines, which expects to have 20 percent more seats in the third quarter as it runs larger aircraft to the airport.
That’s good news for the authority that runs the two airports. “We expected a bump,” but the current projections are exceeding expectations, authority CEO Jack Potter said on May 18.
Reagan National had been among the last airports in the nation to see the start of a recovery following major passenger freefalls in the early part of COVID. But the federal government’s decision to require, starting last September, airlines to resume using all their allocated take-off and landing slots at the close-in airport spurred a return to previous service levels.
At Washington Dulles, which is still working to bring back international travel derailed by the pandemic, seat availability is expected to be back at or above 2019 levels by September and October. In addition to increases from the airport’s dominant carrier, United, expanded service already is coming from the likes of Aer Lingus, Air France and KLM.
The current and expected level of returning service is running above projections embedded in the authority’s budget. Headwinds, however, still exist: High fuel costs and labor shortages ranging from pilots to mechanics are bedeviling airlines and could impact their ability to fulfill anticipated flight schedules.
A number of major carriers already have scaled back their planned summertime flying plans. And there’s always the possibility of successive COVID flare-ups that scare away travelers.
That said, “we remain very optimistic,” said Paul Bobson, the vice president for airline business development at the Airports Authority.