Reaction to Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt's proposed plan to limit passengers at Washington National Airport and divert some jetliner traffic was predictable yesterday: Everybody was a little bit unhappy.
Representatives of the major airline lobby were upset at the prospect of losing up to 20 percent of their permitted big-jet flights per day.
Repesentatives of the business aviation lobby were fearful that some increase in commuter flights might come at their expense.
Proponents of reducing noise and traffic at the airport thought the proposal was a step in the right direction, but too short a step.
Goldschmidt, who has called National Airport a "dump" and a "disgrace," said yesterday in announcing his proposal that he wants to make Natinal "a showcase for visitors and a good neighbor as well."
His proposal contains many elements including an absolute late-night curfew, an annual ceiling of 18 million passengers a year at the airport, and a reduction in big-jet, and possibly general aviation, flights in favor of short-haul commuter flights. A final plan, after comments are received from parties and after possible public hearings, will be issued in August, Goldschmidt promised.
Goldschmidt's proposal would reduce the permitted big-jet flights from 40 an hour to 36. That, combined with the new curfew and operating hours, would mean a 20 percent daily reduction -- from 640 permitted flights to 522 permitted flights. Not all of those permitted flight slots are used today, but most are.
Clive DuVal, a Democratic state senator from fairfax County and the president of a group called Citizens for Dulles that has pushed and sued to urge transfer of National Flights to Dules, said yesterday that "Generally speaking, I'm pleased."
Goldschmidt's proposal, DuVal said, "gets at the basic point -- to put a population lid on National and get more airplanes at that open space out at Dulles."
The Virginia senator said he would prefer a lower population lid than 18 million annual passengers and would prefer that National retain its current rule prohibiting nonstop flights from cities beyond 650 miles.
Seven cities beyond that, however, receive special exceptions. Goldschmidt proposed keeping the perimeter with its seven exceptions or moving the perimeter to 1,000 miles with no exceptions.
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.), who has long been active in seeking to reduce the noise at National, said he was "encouraged on the whole" by Goldschmidt's statement. Fisher said he would perfer a lower passenger ceiling -- around 16.5 million -- and hoped Goldschmidt would find a way for continued citizen participation with the Department of Transportation. Fisher recommended a citizens advisory committee.
Sen. Charles Mac C. Mathias (R-Md.) said that the proposal was "a small step, a beginning. Whether it will result in an appreciable reduction in aircraft noise at National remains to be seen." He said the reduction in four big jets per hour, "is unlikely to be noticed by those who live with the drone of aircraft over their homes and offices" and also proposed that the passenger ceiling be set lower that the 15 million passengers per year now using National. There is now no passenger ceiling.
The airlines had another view. Clifton F. von Kann, senior vice-president of the Air Transport Association, said Goldschmidt's proposal was better than an earlier one from a previous administration that would have controlled access to National Airport by the amount of noise the airplane made. However, the said: "The public likes the airport and wants to use it; it looks as if [this proposal] would inhibit our demand."
Goldschmidt would also permit two-and three-engine jumbo jets at the airport when its ground facilities are ready to handle them. In fact, several airlines already have gate facilities that could accept jumbos.
Eastern Airlines is particularly anxious to use a jumbo on some of its shuttle runs to New York City and thus reduce the need for an extra flight per hour. An Eastern Airbus Industrie A300 has already made a proving flight to the airport, as has a United Airlines Dc10. The Lockhead £1011 -- used by National tenants Delta, TWA and Eastern -- would also be eligible to use National.
John Winant, president of the National Business Aircraft Association, a group that represents a major general aviation group using the airport, said the absolute ban on night-time flights "has the seeds of establishing precedents elsewhere that would be unlivable." He also said there was concern about the possibility of general aviation planes losing some slots to commuter airlines, one of the options in Goldschmidt's proposal.