Congressional passage of a new Federal Aviation Administration bill on May 15 cleared the way for San Antonio International Airport officials to start working with American Airlines to launch nonstop flights to Washington, D.C.

The background

The U.S. House of Representatives on May 15 passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024, which reauthorizes the agency’s authority on aviation nationwide for five more years and funds the FAA with more than $105 billion.

City officials said a key provision in the aviation bill adds five longer-distance, roundtrip flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport near Washington, D.C.

According to a news release, American Airlines officials are applying with the U.S. Department of Transportation to fill one of those new flight slots with nonstop service between SAIA and Reagan.

If approved by the federal government, SAIA officials will further bolster air service offerings at the north side airport, where the first nonstop flight from San Antonio to Europe is scheduled to take off May 17 as Condor Airlines will begin providing service to Frankfurt, Germany. Also, United Airlines on May 15 announced the addition of a second daily flight from San Antonio to San Francisco International Airport.

A closer look

Political, business and military leaders in San Antonio have long called for more direct flights to destinations such as Washington, D.C., saying such service can positively benefit business travelers as well as military officers and other representatives who are based in San Antonio.

San Antonio city representatives said SAT serves a regional population of more than 5.2 million people and is a key hub in one of the nation’s largest concentrations of military bases.

Joint Base San Antonio supports 266 mission partners, and employs 82,000 active-duty members and civilian employees, the release stated.

Air travelers wanting to fly from San Antonio to Washington, D.C., or vice versa must make connections through other airports or take ground transportation from Dulles International Airport or Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Washington, D.C.

City representatives said a nonstop flight between San Antonio and Reagan National Airport will save the military and its partners more than 500,000 hours yearly. Local officials added the same benefits can be extended to cybersecurity professionals who work in the San Antonio area.

City leaders also said nonstop service by American Airlines would increase competition for Texas consumers by adding a fourth carrier flying from SAIA to a third different airport in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area and offer connectivity to numerous other airports in the northeastern United States through American’s hub at Reagan National Airport.

Based on the number of daily passengers traveling each way between the two airports, Reagan National Airport is one of the largest unserved markets from SAIA, the release stated.

What they’re saying

Nate Gatten, American Airlines' executive vice president of corporate real estate and chief government affairs officer, said he and colleagues are excited by the opportunities offered by Congress increasing the number of long-distance flights at Reagan.

“San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and is the largest unserved market in Texas from DCA,” Gatten said in a statement. "This route will provide a one-stop connection option from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to SAT on our industry-leading domestic network while continuing to offer nonstop service to more than 85 destinations from DCA.”

Jeff Webster, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said he and his fellow chamber leaders and members will keep working with city officials to make sure nonstop service between SAT and DCA becomes a reality. Once President Joe Biden signs the FAA bill into law, the U.S. Department of Transportation will have 60 days to award the five slot pairs to airlines and their proposed routes, the release stated. American Airlines is the sole applicant to provide the direct the San Antonio International Airport-Reagan National Airport route.

"We look forward to planning our annual advocacy trip from the nation’s capital, SA to D.C., when we can take advantage of a direct flight,” Webster said in a statement.