Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter Recommending a New Washington D.C. Airport.

April 09, 1938

My dear Mr. Chairman:

I am writing you again in regard to the serious, long-standing failure to get an adequate airport or airports for the Nation's Capital.

The situation is such that if a serious accident takes place the blame will fall, I fear, on the Congress itself.

If you do not mind my offering unsolicited but, I believe, practical advice, here it is:

(a) The present Washington-Hoover field can never be made of permanent service for commercial planes entering or leaving the Capital—because of its low altitude and the impossibility of providing long enough runways in all directions. Until a better field or fields can be provided, we shall have to continue the use of the Washington-Hoover airport, and I am entirely willing, as a temporary matter, to have the Military Road closed and any other slight temporary improvements made. This, however, is, of course, not a final solution.

(b) We need to get a full-sized, all-weather airport as quickly as possible. I have surveyed all available sites and conclude that the Camp Springs site is the only one which can be bought at a reasonable figure and put into actual operation inside of a year and a half. It requires little grading and the work can be done in large part by WPA labor. At the Camp Springs site we should buy at least two thousand acres of land, and on this land we can get runways of any required length in all directions.

Objection has been raised by the Navy Department because of the Radio Receiving Station five miles away. This matter, I think, we can work out in conference between your Committee and the Naval Affairs Committee, and it should not prohibit us from using what is, by all odds, the best all-weather airport for planes of every size.

(c) The only objection to Camp Springs is its distance from the center of the hotel and shopping district. The Capital of the United States need not, and should not, be limited to one airport. For commercial and military reasons we should have two.

I, therefore, recommend that the Gravelly Point site be also developed. This is primarily a pumping proposition. It is infinitely better than the Washington-Hoover field but is not a 100 per cent site for long-distance flying or flying when there is a river fog. It would take four or five years to complete the Gravelly Point airport, as the fill would have to be high and require a long time to settle. Nevertheless, I think that if the work is spread over four or five years, the annual cost will not be heavy and the Capital will have another airport which could be used under good weather conditions, which, incidentally, occur over 75 per cent of the time. Also, the Gravelly Point site is only ten or twelve minutes from the center of things, as against thirty minutes to the Camp Springs site.

It is because I visualize this subject not only as one of immediate emergency to prevent serious accidents, but also as one which looks to greatly increased air traffic in the future, that I hope quick action can be taken at this session.

Very sincerely yours,

Honorable Morris Sheppard,

Chairman, Military Affairs Committee,

United States Senate,

Washington, D.C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter Recommending a New Washington D.C. Airport. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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