USAir Chairman Edwin I. Colodny woke up the luncheon audience at the Aero Club of Washington yesterday by suggesting that the federal government consider closing Washington National Airport after beefing up facilities at Dulles International Airport.
He also suggested that Andrews Air Force Base -- where two long runways lie virtually unused except by weekend reservists and Air Force One -- would be a good place to put special-service flights such as the Eastern Airlines shuttle to New York and its competitors (meaning New York Air). An Eastern representative at the luncheon spilled his coffee when Colodny made that suggestion.
To complete his proposals, Colodny suggested that the quota system be eliminated for flights at Washington National, New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia and Chicago's O'Hare and that free market forces determine who gets to fly there.
Colodny's comments were clearly qualified to require that alternative aviation facilities be in place before National be closed and that such a move should be considered, not necessarily adopted. Nonetheless, his suggestion is remarkable because of the oft-repeated position of all major airlines that National is the only airport in the Washington area that people really want to use and because he is the first major airline executive to make such a suggestion.
Colodny's airline has more than 80 flights a day at National and trails only Eastern, which has 126. USAir's corporate headquarters are at National. Suggestions from anybody else that National should be closed would be greeted with hoots of derision considering the warm spot the close-in airport has in the hearts of most members of Congress.
National Airport will be one of the first problems new Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis must address. His predecessor, Neil Goldschmidt, left on the table a policy for National that would reduce by about 20 percent the number of large airline flights permitted, impose an absolute nighttime curfew on flights, limit the number of passengers permitted to use the airport annually and admit widebody jetliners. Unless Congress acts or Lewis withdraws the rule, it will take effect April 26.
Because of a court ruling, improved roads, parking and terminal facilities cannot be constructed at National until the airport policy is in place.
The airlines are united on one thing: They do not like Goldschmidt's policy. They are finding it impossible with the addition of ambitious new airlines to decide who shall be permitted to use National under the present quota, which allows 40 flights per airline per hour.
"It is time to recognize that Washington National Airport will continue to be a festering problem under deregulation unless far-sighted action is taken," Colodny said.
He suggested specifically that a task force be appointed to consider expanded use of Andrews by both private and business aviation as well as some airlines; "a more complete development of Dulles International . . . including suitable ground access" so that Dulles could serve passengers at both close-in and distant destinations.
"When Dulles is completed and available, consideration should be given to elimination of Washington National as an air carrier [scheduled airline] airport, perhaps closing it entirely and dedicating the land to other uses," Colodny continued.
James E. Reinke, the Eastern official who spilled his coffee, said in an interview later that "Colodny raised a very good point. We have a problem. I would like to suggest that instead of kicking the hell out of Washington National, [the Department of Transportation] develop positive programs for Dulles."