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Thursday, August 11, 2022
ArlingtonTransportationReagan National suddenly the 'comeback kid' of aviation

Reagan National suddenly the ‘comeback kid’ of aviation

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Northern Virginia’s two commercial airports continue to claw their way up from the depths of COVID, and collectively are almost back on track.

But there is still a way to go: May’s passenger totals at Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports, if taken together, were still down 6.6 percent from May 2019, the last comparable pre-pandemic month.

A total of 4,165,923 passengers traveled through the two airports in May 2022, according to the most recent data from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. That’s well up from 2,196,266 a year ago (when COVID was still inhibiting travelers) but down from 4,459,709 in 2019.

Yet at Reagan National, the comeback already had surpassed 100 percent of pre-COVID figures, with the 2,241,373 passengers in May up – albeit slightly – from 2,223,494 in May 2019.

At Dulles, the passenger total of 1,924,559 was down from 2,236,215 in May 2019.

It was Reagan National that took the biggest hit early in the COVID era, as tourism to the local region dropped off the charts, as did business travel. But airlines were encouraged – perhaps “forced” is a more appropriate word – to get flights back at National (and give travelers a reason to book them) when the federal government reinstated its use-them-or-lose-them rules regulating coveted take-off and landing slots at the airport.

(Reagan National is one of the few airports in the nation, and the only one in the local area, to be slot-controlled.)

Dulles continues to make up ground in international travel, which in normal years accounts for about a third of its passenger totals. The roughly 700,000 passengers traveling through the airport on international itineraries in May 2022 weren’t down that much from the approximately 800,000 in May 2019.

Where things go from now, given economic uncertainty and rising prices of just about everything, still remains to be seen, but officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs Reagan National and Dulles, seem bullish on maintaining momentum.

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