The Federal Aviation Administration is considering a request from Eastern Airlines to use new generation Boeing 757 jets at National Airport, an FAA spokesman said yesterday. If approved, the 757 would be the largest, and, according to Boeing, the quietest jet airliner at National.
Eastern is scheduled this December to be the first airline to take delivery of the 757, which is now undergoing final FAA airworthiness inspections, Eastern spokesman Tom Myers said. He declined to say what frequency of 757 service or routes Eastern wants to operate at National.
FAA officials at National Airport already have begun evaluating the plane's needs for terminal and service facilities. FAA pilots are expected to conduct test take-offs and landings in a 757 at National to evaluate performance in bad weather and on National's curved flight paths and comparatively short runways.
The proposal seems certain to renew the years-old controversy over safety and congestion at National. Civic groups from neighborhoods beneath National's flight paths have opposed introduction of new, large-capacity planes and have campaigned to divert flights to Dulles International Airport.
The twin-engine, single-aisle 757 is not a wide-bodied jet. Eastern's version, with a first-class cabin, will seat 185 passengers, eight more than the largest plane now serving National, the Boeing 727-200.Without a first-class section, however, the 757 can seat up to 224. It is about two feet longer than the 727, and its wing span is about 17 feet greater.
Eastern spokesman Myers says 757s would reduce noise at National. "It's the quietest airplane flying, so there's bound to be an improvement," he said.
But Eric Bernthal, president of the Coalition on Airport Problems, said that regardless of the noise level of the new jets, his group wants them to use Dulles, to create an overall reduction in traffic at National. CAP is an umbrella group of civic organizations.
Concerning safety, Bernthal said: "We have grave concerns about any airplane which is as large or larger than a 727-200. We believe and we know many pilots believe that a fully loaded 727-200 already exceeds the safe operating margins at National."
The FAA and the Air Line Pilots Association say the 727-200 can be operated safely with a full load at National.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) also spoke against use of the 757 at National. "I'm concerned that it would send the wrong signal to the airlines, which are moving now to Dulles," he said. Wolf also said no decision should be made, pending completion of a recently begun study of safety standards at National and other U.S. airports by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The original wording of a comprehensive policy on noise and traffic levels at National, implemented in 1981 after years of public debate, appeared to encourage use of planes such as the 757. It provided for noise limits in 1986 that jets now in use could not meet. Those standards, however, are now under review and could be eliminated.
The 757 was developed in tandem with the larger, wide-bodied Boeing 767 to replace older jets, increase fuel efficiency for airlines hard pressed by rising fuel prices, and reduce noise. The first 767s went into service with United Airlines last month.
Wide-bodied jets currently are barred from using National. Representatives of United met with FAA Administrator J. Lynn Helms recently to discuss bringing a 767 to National for a demonstration, a United spokesman said. However, the airline later decided not to formally seek permission, he said.
Earlier this year, Eastern asked the FAA for permission to fly wide-bodied A-300 "Airbuses" produced by the European consortium Airbus Industrie into National. Helms turned down the request, concluding that the Airbus might not be able to recover if it lost power in one engine during takeoff.