Representatives of 23 airlines seeking the right to operate out of Washington's National Airport, wrangled all day yesterday with little apparent progress in resolving the thorny issue of how the limited space is to be divided among them.
At the end of an eight-hour meeting, the 23 airlines were still seeking the use of about 730 slots a day at National although there is room for no more than 640. A slot is industry parlance for an allowable movement of a plane -- either a take off or a landing.
Although the airlines could not trim their request overrun to below 90, an even greater problem awaits them when the Federal Aviation Administration reduces the slot availability by another 118 in January under its recently announced revised Metropolitan Washington airports policy.
The airline representatives currently meeting are members of a government-sanctioned committee that has been hammering out slot agreements for four congested U.S. airports since 1969. But the new opportunities offered by airline deregulation has increased significantly the number of airlines wishing to fly to and from the limited-slot-airports.
As might be expected, the meeting generally pitted the established airlines that have served National a long time against new airlines that have recently entered the market and three airlines seeking to start up at National anew.
A lot of enmity was directed at Texas International Airlines, which yesterday was seeking 24 slots, down from an earlier request of 44. Although TI hasn't stated its plans for the slots publicly, many believe it may enter the heavily-traveled Washington-New York market.
Most of the criticism of TI came from the larger carriers, scoring TI for entering with big plans when other carriers started small but increased their allotments slowly. But even Air Florida, which got in only last year, picked on TI. "You must start small and grow like we did," Air Florida's Philip Porcari told the TI official.
TI's John Stelzer told the group that no airline "owns" the slots and each comes to the twice-yearly meeting without any.
But the existing carriers appeared generally to disagree. "We're flying 130 today and we won't go below it," Eastern Airline's Jim Dare said. "If this committee fails, we'll take what the government gives us."