Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis yesterday rejected a proposal from budget director David Stockman to auction off landing rights at National Airport.
"I believe that such action would impact adversely on the industry and the public," Lewis said in a letter to Stockman, head of the Office of Management and Budget.
Lewis' move was welcomed by airline industry groups, who feared that federally-owned National would set a precedent for other busy airports that limit the right to land.
Lewis made clear he does not want that to happen. "The largest carriers, serving the high-density markets, have the cash resources to outbid the smaller carriers serving the lesser markets," Lewis' letter said. "The travel options available to the public would therefore be limited, if not curtailed, and almost certainly the airlines would pass the higher costs along to the public."
Last month, Stockman proposed auctioning off rights at National, saying the approach would increase federal revenues and decrease traffic at the busy airport, which the Federal Aviation Administration owns and operates.
The OMB has been discussing auctions for some time, industry sources said, and could renew efforts for them after Lewis's resignation to head a cable television company becomes effective on Feb. 1. In his letter, Lewis said he expected his designated successor, Elizabeth Dole, would review the policy again.
"Slots," or rights to operate a flight, are now free and are allocated by a committee of airlines serving National. National is one of four U.S. airports with permanent slot systems designed to control noise or congestion. The others are JFK and La Guardia in New York and O'Hare in Chicago.
Lewis said that another of Stockman's suggestions, raising the landing fees that planes pay, might be adopted, when the current contract setting fees expires at the end of 1984. The extra money would be used to finance rehabilitation of the facilities at National, he said.
The Air Transport Association welcomed Lewis' auction decision