Negotiations to allocate airline access to Washington National Airport after Dec. 1 have broken down, jeopardizing the planning for the busy holiday travel season, government and industry officials said yesterday.
After 23 days of talks, representatives of the 231 airlines now flying out of Washington National have been unable to come up with a formula for allocating the slots for the airport. "Slots" is the term used by the industry to describe the number of takeoffs and landings each airline can make each day at a given airport.
So, for the first time in the 11-year history of the slot allocation process, the problem has been left in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has never publicly explained how it would make such a decision.
Late yesterday, Department of Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt was meeting with other DOT officials in an effort to devise at least a temporary slot plan for National. The airlines may challenge in court whatever the Transportation Department comes up with, one source said, a move that would add further confusion to the National Airport picture.
Since the airlines were granted anti-trust immunity in 1968 to discuss the slot question, seeking government assistance in the program has been viewed by the carriers as a last resort.
Although the industry committees that consider the allocation question have been able to solve the problem for the two New York City airports and O'Hare International in Chicago, and thorny questions revolving around the limits on flights in and out of National have apparently left the panel deadlocked.
The committee has, however, come up with a formula for distributing the slots at National through Nov. 30, covering the busy Thanksgiving period.
But the problem becomes particularly acute at this time of year because the schedules for the airline guide, the key document used by travel agents in booking flights, are to be turned over by the airlines by Oct. 21.
If the slot problem is not solved by the FAA before that time, airline sales representatives and travel agents could find themselves in a difficult position in selling tickets for the Christmas-New Year's season.
Adding to the confusion surrounding the issue is the fate of a program being introduced by Texas International Airlines, which hopes through its New York Air affiliate to begin offering low fare service between Washington and LaGuardia Airport.
The LaGuardia route, which New York Air had hoped to begin on Dec. 14, would be in direct competition with the Eastern Air Shuttle. A representative of Texas International said yesterday that the airlines is still planning to introduce the service on schedule.