Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) told Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole in a letter yesterday that he may not support an administration bill to transfer National and Dulles International airports to local control if the airline industry gets any further concessions.
Wolf, a longtime supporter of the plan to have the federal government divest itself of the two airports, said that the DOT's current bill is an "excruciating compromise" that he can support, but that he would have "serious reservations" if airline lobbyists are successful in getting further changes in the bill.
The bill, expected to be introduced in Congress next week, contains some provisions generally considered favorable to the airlines, including one that would get rid of the current annual cap of 16 million passengers at National.
The plan to transfer the airports has put Wolf and other Northern Virginia legislators in a tough spot. They have heavily promoted the plan, refined during months of hearings before the 15-member Holton Commission, headed by former Virginia governor Linwood Holton.
The transfer plan initially was designed to benefit opponents of National Airport jet noise, who are a large and vocal voting bloc in Wolf's district. It was hoped that a local airport authority would reduce flights at National and lower jet noise.
But the politically potent airlines, whose support is crucial to the bill's passage in Congress, have said they want changes in the bill.
The Air Traffic Association, which represents most large airlines, says it wants a provision loosening noise restrictions on jets using the airport between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The ATA has found this and other National Airport rules stifling, and it is using the occasion of DOT's bill-drafting to try to undo them.
Antinoise groups have condemned the DOT bill, which, in addition to lifting the 16 million passenger cap, also would freeze the number of hourly flights in and out of the airport and retain National's nighttime noise limits.
"I strongly believe that any weakening of those [nighttime] standards would be devastating to the communities which are underneath or border National Airport flight paths," Wolf wrote to Dole.
"I just don't want to loosen the bill up and change it anymore," Wolf said in an interview yesterday. "I'm really concerned by the ATA's ideas of making some changes. All sides have given on this. This is as far as [Northern Virginia representatives] are willing to go."