Seventeen airlines serving National Airport yesterday proposed sweeping revisions in rules there to add 50 new flights per weekday, lower the annual passenger ceiling and allow carriers to buy and sell landing and take-off rights among themselves.
While the plan calls for heavier daytime traffic at National, the airlines would reduce flights between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. in order to control noise and cut service at the federally operated airport on Saturdays and Sundays.
The proposal, submitted to a Transportation Department task force studying traffic levels at the airport on orders of Congress, was condemned by area politicians and citizen groups seeking to reduce traffic at National.
"The place is totally saturated now, and their response is to bring in more planes," said Eric Bernthal, president of the Coalition on Airport Problems. " . . . Their position is that they don't care what kind of noise they make for 15 hours a day as long as they're a little quieter at night."
"It really thinks in terms of the airlines and not of the citizens of the Washington community," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). He predicted the airline proposal would be poorly received by DOT.
The plan carries the endorsement of all but two of the 19 airlines serving the airport and four seeking rights to operate there. Houston-based Continental took no position on the proposal, and Chicago's Midway said it has "certain, limited reservations" to it.
DOT task force chairman Lindy Knapp declined comment. Airline analysts yesterday said DOT officials are opposed to much growth in traffic at National, but might be pursuaded to accept some increase in return for a solution to another festering question, how to divide up the airport's limited number of "slots" for a single take-off or landing.
On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration was forced to extend the current distribution of the airport's 555 daytime slots another two months after an airline industry committee charged with allocating slots by unanimous consent declared itself deadlocked.
Yesterday, Norman Philion, chairman of the airline committee that devised the new plan, described it as a "middle ground" that would meet the long-term needs of the industry and help control noise.
The 50 additional weekday slots that the airline plan provides would allow four airlines to begin service there and grant some extra slots to carriers that have a small number now.
The current 37 take-offs and landings per hour between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., would change to 43 per hour until 9 p.m. and 27 per hour between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. "The more noise-sensitive hours are in the evening," Philion said, "when there is less street noise, industrial noise, traffic noise and so on."
On Saturdays, there would be not more than 451 take-offs and landings and on Sundays, 497. Currently, the airlines operate fewer flights than that, but the schedule after Sept. 15 calls for about 32 more flights than the plan would allow.
If the plan becomes effective, each airline would receive free of charge a specified number of slots. In the future, the carriers could buy and sell them among themselves. Carriers that gained new slots under the plan would have to wait a year before they could buy or sell them, a move aimed at heading off speculation in the slots, which some industry officials say could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The carriers' plan also backs Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole's proposal to lower the annual passenger ceiling at National from its current 16 million to 14.8 million. They initially opposed Dole's plan.
Passengers on certain commuter flights that are exempted from slot restrictions would not count toward the ceiling. About 13.5 million people use National each year. Philion argued that by allowing more flights into National, the ceiling would be reached more quickly, forcing future growth to Dulles International Airport.
FAA officials have said that with current levels of flights, the cap should be reached around 1985.