Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth H. Dole and Virginia officials said yesterday that legislation to transfer National and Dulles International airports from federal to local control has an excellent chance of passing Congress this year.
"We must seize the moment. The momentum is with us," Dole said at a briefing. "It can make it through Congress, I'm convinced."
"We anticipate it will be passed . . . . We used to say hope, but now we anticipate," said former Virginia governor Linwood Holton, who led a 15-member commission that recommended the shift in airport control.
However, Maryland officials disagreed. "I don't expect the legislation to pass, at least not this session," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at a separate meeting of the Maryland congressional delegation. If the bill does get to the House floor, he said, the Maryland congressional delegation probably would offer an amendment to require that flights be scattered across the area.
A scatter plan tested in 1983 was supported by Maryland residents who were relieved of some airplane noise, but many Virginia residents complained heatedly. The scatter plan was dropped, and yesterday Prince George's County officials met with Maryland congressmen to ask for help in getting it revived.
Members of the Virginia congressional delegation cited the federal budget deficit and the high cost of improvements planned for the airports as reasons they believe this may be the year the transfer legislation will pass. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican whose district includes both airports, said that Congress should be delighted to relieve the federal government of this expensive responsibility.
Dole said the Holton Commission had helped to eliminate roadblocks that had arisen in past efforts to transfer authority. The commission was able to work out a compromise acceptable to the airline industry and to Mayor Marion Barry, who also spoke in favor of the legislation yesterday.
Members of the Virginia congressional delegation acknowledge, however, that there is still opposition to the legislation. Members such as Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) say they believe that the federal government should keep control of the airports.
Others say that members of Congress are particularly concerned about relinquishing control of National Airport because it is the airport they most often use in commuting to their districts.
In addition, Maryland officials are concerned that the authority would pump considerable money into the Virginia airports, placing the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which competes with the two Washington area airports, at a disadvantage.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said that he believes if the measure makes it to the Senate floor for a vote, "We'll carry the day." But the measure must first win approval of the Senate commerce committee, where Hollings is the ranking Democrat.
The commerce committee is scheduled to hold two days of hearings on the bill on Wednesday and on July 11. Sen. Paul S. Trible (R-Va.), a member of the committee, said he is hopeful that the bill will be out of committee by the end of July.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) is a member, also will have hearings. The committee will make recommendations, but will not vote on the legislation.
Mathias said he was opposed to the legislation in its present form, but left the door open to a possible compromise.
One Senate source said that one of Mathias' concerns is that Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, a Democrat, plans to make a major campaign issue of the airport shift if he runs for Mathias' Senate seat. Hughes is a vocal opponent of the bill.
Under the legislation currently before Congress, the airports would be leased for 35 years to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, an independent agency that would be created by Virginia and the District. During that time, Congress would continue to have oversight, according to Dole.
The authority would be governed by an 11-member board, including five Virginia representatives, three from the District, two from Maryland, and one presidential appointee.