Senator John McCain has been getting tributes from across the country and around the world since he passed away. Many admire his decision to remain in Vietnamese captivity rather than accept an early release that was offered to him as the son of an Admiral. Others highlight his civility during the 2008 Presidential campaign when he refused to go along with supporters impugning the character of his rival, then-Senator Obama.
There are things to agree with and disagree with in the man’s record. He was one of the more fervent hawks in Congress. Since he knew first-hand some of the horrors of war I was often surprised by his support for it. In the single most important decision a presidential contender can make — whom to select as vice president — he chose Sarah Palin.
Immediately following a passing people are much more forgiving of the things they disagree with. So I certainly understand a desire not to criticize him.
However Dawn Gilbertson has a piece in USA Today about McCain’s role in obtaining exemptions from the perimeter rule at Washington National airport which benefited what was then America West, and One Mile at a Time cites his ‘honor’ and ‘principle’ in refusing to take the new Phoenix flight that enabled himself.
- Flights over 1250 miles aren’t permitted at Washington National airport
- However there are now exceptions granted by law, championed by Senator McCain, and granted by the Department of Transportation
- The idea of the perimeter rule was to protect Washington Dulles airport, preserving the viability of long haul flights there. However as I explained in 2003,
The originally stated purpose of the 1250 mile limit, or “perimeter rule,” was to allow Washington-Dulles airport to build itself up as a base for long-haul flights. Ironically, by limiting the distance of flights at the close-in airport, National got more short flights and Dulles did not. So there wasn’t enough feeder traffic for long-haul flights, and the development of Dulles as a hub was hampered for a decade. The perimeter rule forced Dulles to more or less rely on the DC market for its flights instead of supplementing that traffic with connecting traffic.
Even if the perimeter rule made sense in 1966 when it was first adopted (at the time the limit was 650 miles), there’s no reason for 49 USC §49109 any longer. However United wants to prevent more convenient competition for its Washington Dulles hub, so they lobby to keep it.
Senator McCain wanted to eliminate the perimeter rule, but maintained that if that wasn’t politically feasible he wanted airlines based outside the 1250 mile perimeter to have access to Washington National airport. This meant America West getting a Phoenix – Washington National non-stop and ultimately National – Las Vegas as well (they operated a Vegas hub).
At the time these flights were granted there was non-serious criticism that McCain was pushing for them so he could fly non-stop home from the close-in airport to DC where he had dedicated free parking.
- He sought a special favor for a home state company.
- He didn’t mind accusations of cronyism, but couldn’t abide the claim that he was doing something for his own personal benefit so for years he refused to take the new non-stop flight to Phoenix.
- Eventually he starting taking the flight years later after he did so once and no one criticized him for it.
Today there are exemptions which allow flights from National airport to Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Juan, and Seattle.
McCain also supported the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act which handed out airline subsidies after 9/11 to America West Airlines, US Airways, American Trans Air, Aloha Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Evergreen International Airlines, and World Airways.
Here’s Doug Parker asking the government for a bailout. He got $380 million in federal loan guarantees. If that hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have taken over US Airways and used that as a platform to take over American Airlines.
Shortly after Senator McCain’s passing, American Airlines — whose top leaders worked at America West — put out a statement in which Parker thanks McCain for the subsidies after 9/11,
We are extremely grateful for the work Senator McCain did on behalf of our team members, most notably in the aftermath of 9/11, both for American Airlines and a predecessor airline, America West. American would not be what it is today without the principled support of Senator McCain and our 130,000 team members are forever grateful.