One of the new-generation Boeing 757 jetliners is tentatively scheduled to make its first landing at National Airport March 12 to test whether the plane is suited for regular service there, the Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday.
If approved, the twin-engine, 185-seat 757 will be the largest, and according to its operator, Eastern Airlines, the quietest jet landing at the busy airport. Civic groups have opposed using the 757 at National, arguing it should go to Dulles International Airport.
Last year, Eastern sought clearance to use the wide-bodied A-300 "Airbus" at National in the face of civic opposition. After a test flight, the FAA rejected the request, citing potential safety problems. No wide-bodied jet now uses National; the 757 is not a wide-bodied aircraft.
Before a new plane can use National regularly, the FAA must certify it is suitable for ground facilities and can operate safely at the airport, which has comparatively short runways and a complicated approach path.
Pilots have already conducted extensive mock 757 takeoffs and landings at National using a computer simulator, which an Eastern official said showed the new planes could perform "beautifully" at the airport.
An FAA spokesman said the test flight's major purpose will be to see if ground facilities such as taxiways, gates and fire equipment are suitable for the jet. At present, no flights are planned to measure the 757's performance in the air around National and on its runways, he said.
Eric Cronquist, vice president of the Coalition on Airport Problems, said there is no proof the 757 can operate safely at National or would seem noticeably quieter to people living nearby, as Eastern asserts.