The Transportation Department sent to Congress yesterday legislation that would allow the current noise and traffic restrictions at National Airport to remain in effect if the federal government sells the airport and Dulles International Airport to a regional authority.
The legislation, however, would end the federal rule that puts a ceiling of 16 million passengers a year on National. The current limit of 37 commercial takeoffs and landings per hour and nighttime noise restrictions would remain in effect.
Under the terms of the bill the two federally owned airports would be transferred to a proposed 11-member authority that would lease the facilities from the federal government for 35 years and then acquire complete ownership of them. Virginia and D.C. officials have supported the concept, but Maryland officials have objected to the sale, fearing the move would bring more competition to the region's third major commercial airport, Baltimore-Washington International, owned by their state.
The legislation implements recommendations from the Holton Commission, a 15-member panel appointed by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole to draw up a plan for transferring the airports to local control. The commission was headed by former Virginia governor Linwood Holton of McLean.
Representatives of the airline industry and area residents concerned about the noise created by National's flights said yesterday they generally liked the proposed legislation.
Though he has voiced reservations about parts of the proposal, a spokesman for Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) said the congressman will cosponsor legislation implementing the plan.
"We have indicated previously our support for this bill," said Daniel Z. Henkin, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a group representing the airlines.
One of Wolf's reservations centers on the removal of the passenger cap and the ability of the new regional airport authority to set its own ceiling. "The legislation is silent on the ability of the new authority to set a cap ," a Wolf spokesman said.
Proponents of the transfer plan have said in the past that lifting the present 16 million passenger cap, fixed by a federal air traffic rule, would be helpful in getting the bill through a reluctant Congress. National now serves about 14.9 million passengers yearly, a spokesman for Wolf said.
In addition, the proposed legislation would freeze for 35 years the current level of 37 scheduled takeoffs and landings per hour between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Wolf has expressed concerns about freezing the noise restrictions that prevent planes that do not meet certain decibel levels from landing after 10 p.m. The congressman would like the new authority to have the ability to reduce the acceptable noise levels, his spokesman said.
The proposal would preserve salaries and benefits of the Federal Aviation Administration personnel at the airports and guarantee them their jobs for two years after the transfer. During the lease period, payments from the airports would reimburse the federal government for its investments at the facilities, estimated at $47 million.