Thursday's action in the House to sidetrack the administration's proposals for National Airport was a victory for the airlines that have lobbied so hard to kill the policy; it is a temporary setback for the people of the Washington area, who have suffered so long from the noise, congestion, safety concerns and overcrowding at National and who have been ill-served by the shamefully underutilized Dulles Airport. While I understand the action of my colleagues, I intend to work with members of Congress to explain the value of this policy.
The airlines did a masterful job of spreading misinformation and rumors regarding possible cutbacks in service to congressional districts when no such decisions had been made. Those decisions couldn't have been made since the final rule has not been issued by the Department of Transportation. In fact, many of the concerns raised by the airlines are likely to be addressed when this rule- making process is completed. Once the final rule is issued, I hope the airlines use that same energy to provide quality service within the framework of the carefully balanced policy, which has been under study for 10 years. The air controllers' strike has demonstrated that the airlines can make necessary adjustments in scheduling with very little pain; and the proposed policy would let them increase their operations from the present depressed levels resulting from the controllers' strike.
The policy would not reduce competition as some have claimed. All airlines can apply for access, which is determined by a committee of air carriers. Each carrier has a veto to ensure fairness. The Federal Aviation Administration only steps in if the committee cannot agree. The FAA's record shows that it has encouraged new entrants whenever possible at National: in 1978, there were 10 air carriers serving National; now there are 24.
I would also encourage the airlines to listen to their Washington neighbors--to the people who use their services. The Washington community is united in its support for a policy, especially provisions for a one-year trial period that would give everyone an opportunity to re- evaluate the situation. Earlier last week, I reported that a letter supporting the policy had been signed by more than 100 citizens, business representatives and government officials in the Washington area and sent to their "neighbors" --members of Congress. It was the first time that a coalition of this magnitude has supported a policy. This group should be congratulated for causing the opposition to offer what has been called "the minimal amendment possible" because it addresses only one feature of the policy.
Unless removed, however, the "minimal amendment" may result in major damage. Although important features of the policy remain (a lower passenger ceiling than that proposed by the Carter administration, FAA safety certification of new aircraft, new noise restrictions, expediting of the Dulles Connector Road and improved ground transportation to Dulles Airport), the Wilson amendment, which keeps airline access at the July 31 level, could make it more difficult to enforce other features of the policy.
For example, it could knock out provisions concerning late-evening flights and hours of operation. It would stop the closing of a loophole that some air carriers are using to bring in many more flights than they are permitted. It would prevent a modest and realistic reduction in the number of flights at National that could provide some measure of relief from aircraft noise and congestion. It would make enforcement of the 16 million annual passenger cap very difficult.
Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis should be commended for his outstanding efforts to formulate a balanced approach to our air transportation problems. I will continue my efforts with the Department of Transportation and members of the Senate and House to keep the policy intact and remove this undesirable amendment.
Thursday's vote did succeed in producing a record 188 representatives who support the policy. As congressional consideration continues, I am optimistic that we can change the nine votes necessary to save the policy.
We've proven that persistence pays off. We've made a great deal of progress with both the administration and Congress. Now that the Washington community is working together, we can still make the policy a reality. It's not perfect, but it's a good beginning and deserves a chance to work.$