Noise. No other National Airport issue stirs up as much emotion or controversy. Unless the noise problem is dealt with directly, National Airport cannot maintain its status as one of the area's major transportation centers.
Previous attempts to solve the noise problem have failed because they used indirect means. Rather than encouraging quieter aircraft, these plans have actually prevented their use. Unsuccessful "solutions" have included: limiting the size of aircraft (no widebody jets); preventing nonstop flights to or from distant points (perimeter restrictions); limiting the number of landings or takeoffs ("slot" restrictions); and, most recently, limiting the total number of passengers using the airport (passenger "caps")
Any successful, direct solution has to take into consideration all of the groups that would be affected by any changes. Those with special concerns include: Washington residents who want a reduction in aircraft noise; members of Congress and their staffs who need fast, convenient access to an airport; business people and government employees who need fast access from an airport to downtown Washington, Rosslyn, Crystal City and the Pentagon; and the airlines, which have large financial investments in National Airport.
I propose a "quiet solution" that addresses the desires of these groups, while dealing directly with National's noise problem. The plan's four basic components are as follows:
1.Reduce jet flights at National Airport by 10 percent, but allow the use of quieter, wide-body aircraft to make up for the loss of seats.
2.Eliminate the "perimeter rule" and allow aircraft to operate nonstop to or from any U.S. city.
3.Ditribute airport operating slots to the airlines through an auction to the highest bidders.
4.Create an "airport express" facility at Union Station to transport passengers to the three area airports -- National, Dulles and BWI.
The reduction of jet flight operations, coupled with use of quieter, wide-body aircraft would provide immediate noise relief for all Washingtonians, especially those up and down the Potomac River corridor. Wide-body jets use new-technology engines that are much quieter than those on most jet aircraft now serving National. The net effect for the airlines and their passengers would be that it would take fewer flights to carry the same number of passengers. For example, the hourly Eastern shuttle to New York often requires extra flight sections that could be avoided with the use of one larger aircraft.
The quieter wide-body aircraft that should then be allowed to operate would be the Airbus A300 and A310, the Boeing 767, the Lockheed L1011 and the McDonnell Douglas DC10.
There is currently a 1,000-mile perimeter restriction on nonstop flights to or from National. This is preventing nonstop flights to some U.S. cities where the use of wide-body aircraft would be warranted, such as Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and Denver. This perimeter rule does not prevent one-stop service to these and other points beyond the 1,000- mile limitation, as long as the aircraft first stops inside the perimeter, even as close as Dulles or BWI.
Elimination of this restrictive rule would not cause National to become a "long-haul" airport or deprive Dulles and BWI of transcontinental and intercontinental service. First, flights could not operate nonstop much beyond Denver because of the operating restrictions created by the short runways at National. Second, international flights to Canada, the Bahamas, the Caribbean or Bermuda could not operate from National because of the lack of Customs and Immigration Services. Operations at National, Dulles and BWI would resemble those at the three New York City airports. National, like La Guardia, would handle short to medium-length flights. Dulles and BWI, like Kennedy and Newark, would handle short-, medium-and long-haul service, as well as all international flights.
The auctioning of landing and takeoff slots at National also would be a major factor in encouraging the use of wide-body aircraft there. Because a monetary value would be placed on each slot, airlines would bid highest for their flights with the greatest demand and largest profits. The price for the slot, plus the higher passenger demand, would act to encourage the use of quieter, larger aircraft. The types of flights that then would operate at National would be:
Flights to Northeastern cities with high- frequency demand and competing railroad service -- Philadelphia, Newark, New York (La Guardia) and Boston.
Flights to cities in Florida -- Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Tampa.
Flights to cities that are airline traffic hubs, where connections can be made to multiple cities on each airline's route networks.
The combination of the slot auction and the removal of the perimeter restriction would require the movement of some flights from National to either Dulles or BWI, which many local groups have been supporting. The development of Union Station as a center for efficient travel to National as well as Dulles and BWI would be the key to making those two distant airports more accessible to all airline passengers. The main features of the "airport express" facility would be: transfer of National, Dulles and BWI bus service to Union Station; creation of a helicopter landing facility at or adjacent to Union Station, and continuation of current Amtrak service to BWI.
Congress has historically prevented any changes at National that would limit flights to members' districts. The combination of the transportation facility to BWI and Dulles next to Capitol Hill, plus the encouragement of flights at National to airline traffic hubs, where easy connections could be made to their districts, should remove their complaints. In fact, a shuttle service could be set up from House and Senate office buildings to Union Station, to further expedite the trips of members to the three airports.
For all airline passengers, Union Station is an ideal location for an "airport express" facility because of its Metro subway service from all parts of the Washington region, its location on Capitol Hill and its closeness to downtown Washington, Rosslyn, Crystal City, and the Pentagon.
Airlines could even set up ticketing and check-in facilities at Union Station to relieve crowding at airport ticket counters. In addition, the building of a heliport would create an opportunity for private helicopter airlines to provide fast service to Dulles and BWI for anybody on business.
This "quiet solution" attacks the noise problem at National Airport directly and effectively, while maintaining sufficient airline service. The use of quieter aircraft and the reduction in the number of flights would provide immediate noise relief for local residents. At the same time, airline travelers and airlines would benefit from increased passenger capacity at National and improved airline service to major and airline hub cities. Union Station, revitalized as an airport transportation hub, would encourage the use of Dulles and BWI as alternatives to National. These area airports would grow, while National would remain an important transportation center.