The crux of last week's House debate over the federal government's policy on National Airport can be boiled down to a single word: competition.
The question is simple: what should determine which airlines can and cannot fly out of National Airport--a deregulated marketplace or the whim of the Federal Aviation Administration?
Clearly, the House opted for the former. And that is only logical if the vote on the Wilson- Green amendment is considered in light of the airline deregulation legislation Congress passed in 1978 and in light of everything we have done since then to discourage government interference in what should be strictly marketplace considerations.
The DOT's stated intention, of course, was to reduce aviation noise in the vicinity of National Airport and to encourage more passengers to use the less convenient Dulles Airport. But the effect of the policy would have been far more perfidious.
Under the proposed policy, commercial air carrier operations would suffer a 15 to 20 percent reduction. It also would eliminate the rule that permits additional takeoffs and landings provided they can be safely accommodated by air traffic conditions. Most of the newer carriers at National rely on this provision for their schedule service.
But at the same time that the DOT policy would force most of the air carriers to cut back service, the department sought to continue an exemption for Eastern Airlines shuttle service, allowing Eastern to operate an unlimited number of extra shuttle sections.
In other words, a government agency--the Department of Transportation--had made the decision that it is in the public interest to let Eastern fly extra sections when it is not in the public interest to allow New York Air or Altair to offer discount service. That is clearly anti-competitive and runs counter to anything Congress intended with the 1978 airline deregulation bill.
And as my colleagues' testimony on the floor of the House illustrated, since the newer carriers have given Eastern a little good old-fashioned competition, we have witnessed a textbook example of free enterprise economics. Not only has the service on most of the routes improved, but fares out of National have dropped by as much as 40 percent.
Had this amendment failed, Eastern's virtual monopoly at National Airport would have been sealed. Without this amendment, our best calculations are that Eastern would control nearly 50 percent of the business in and out of that airport.
Contrary to some reports, the Wilson-Green amendment does not gut DOT's proposed policy for National. In fact, we intentionally drafted the amendment narrowly so as not to restrict the department from:
imposing more stringent noise limitations on aircraft using National Airport;
taking steps to improve access to Dulles or to upgrade passenger and airline facilities;
increasing economic incentives to use Dulles by adjusting landing fees or other payments by airlines for the use of the airport facilities.
extending the current 650-mile perimeter on non-stop flights into and out of National.
Finally, charges that this amendment was intended solely for the convenience of members of Congress are simply not true. As a matter of fact, as a Texan, I am doomed forever to landing at Dulles because non-stop flights from National to Houston and Dallas are prohibited under every proposal for National Airport. The same obviously is true for a vast number of my colleagues from the West who supported the amendment.
We simply want to see Eastern Airlines compete fairly, an idea that, for obvious reasons, is abhorrent to that particular airline.