Metropolitan Council of Governments President H.R. Crawford said yesterday that he opposes late-night flights American Airlines intends to begin at National Airport Wednesday and will seek a seek a court order against them unless American changes its plans.
"We simply will not tolerate any increased activity," said Crawford, who is also a member of the D.C. City Council from Ward 7 in far Northeast Washington. Crawford called the flights a "slap in the face" to area residents and said they violated the intent of the airport's 1981 noise policy to stop passenger jet traffic after 10 p.m.
"American Airlines has found a loophole in the intent of the original plan. And we can close that loophole," Crawford told reporters at an airport press conference. COG, which links 18 state and local governments in the area, will take up the subject on Sept. 14, he said. American has criticized use of the word "loophole" and contended that the flights are permitted under airport policy.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) asked the U.S. Transportation Department to issue an emergency directive to stop the flights, contending they would be louder than expected and could compromise safety at the federally owned airport.
The Transportation Department and American Airlines declined comment on the statements by Wolf and Crawford. Both the government and the airline have said that the flights, scheduled to arrive at 10:55 p.m. and 12:19 a.m., do not violate the airport policy because they will be operated with the only commercial passenger jet quiet enough to meet National's nighttime noise standards, the McDonnell Douglas DC9-80.
Crawford called on American to withdraw its plans voluntarily and for the department to force it to do so if that failed. If the airline persists, he said, he would ask the D.C. City Council to seek an injunction in federal court to stop the flights on the grounds that they violate the intent of the airport's noise policy.
American's plans have already provoked strong criticism from politicians and citizen groups seeking to reduce traffic at National. Last week, Reps. Wolf and Stan Parris and Sens. John W. Warner and Paul S. Trible, all Virginia Republicans, wrote Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole asking that the flights be banned.
Yesterday, Wolf announced he had sent a new message to Dole requesting that she issue an emergency order stopping the flights because of complications the planes would encounter in using the airport's shorter runways.
Wolf contends that noise levels may violate airport policy because late-night flights will have to use the airport's shorter runways. A construction project has closed the main, longer runway between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m.
When approaching the shorter runways, jets must circle and execute maneuvers that require more thrust than is used on the straighter approach to the main runway, Wolf said. This "could have the effect of creating greater noise than allowed under the policy," Wolf said and shorter runways may reduce safety margins.
Federal Aviation Administration officials have said that under the noise policy, jets are admitted or denied entry at night on the basis of noise they emit during test flights at the factory, not on actual noise they make at National. Both the FAA and the airline have denied that using the short runways would pose a safety hazard.