The Federal Aviation Administration is seriously considering shutting down Washington National Airport to air traffic every night at 10:30 and granting non-stop flights to National from cities more than 650 miles distant, The Washington Post has learned.
The new FAA proposals include a reducation of almost 100 short-haul commuter flights and the entry into National of two and three-engine jumbo jets.
The proposals would mean a significant reduction in noise for residents living along National's flight paths and a dramatic change in the number and size of cities that now have nonstop service at National.
The proposals would be contained in a new court-ordered draft environmental impact statement that the FAA must complete before it can expand National's terminal building or make other changes.
The noise benefit would come from three sources:
All flights, both commercial airlines and general aviation planes, would be banned between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m., except in emergencies.
The reduction in the number of large airliners and the increase in commuter flights would mean that about 100 smaller, quieter planes, such as turboprops, would replace noisy jets.
The jumbo jets, the newest air -craft on the market today, actually are quieter than the smaller planes they are replacing.
If the 650-mile limit on nonstop flights is removed, airlines doubtless will try to provide nonstop service from such cities as New Orleans, Dallas and Denver instead of Charleston, Indianapolis and Columbus.
Coast-to-coast nonstop service still would not be likely because under normal weather conditions. National's runways are not long enough for planes carrying the extra fuel loads needed.
The proposed changes have cleared the office of Federal Aviation Administrator Langhorne Bond and are under review at the parent Department of Transportation. The new proposals will replace a draft plicy for National Airport that was introduced last March before airline deregulation became law and changed many features of the draft.
The old plan, Bond said in a recent interview, did not address two major issues. Because of the 650-mile limit on nonstop flights, airlines seeking new routes to Washington were locked out.
Secondly, also because of deregulation, many airlines operating within National Airport's quota system are dropping their flights to close-in cities, such as Charleston. But small commuter airlines, eager to fill that gap, cannot break into the quota.
"I don't anticipate that we'll change the total number of flights," bond said, "but we could well change the mix."
His proposal, it was learned, would transfer four "slots" in the hourly quota of takeoffs and landings from major airlines to commuters.
The proposed absolute nighttime ban would be a first at National, although it has been suggested by area residents on number of occasions.Under the proposal, the last daily flight would have to be scheduled to land or take off by 9:30 p.m. Airplanes would have a one-hour grace period. At 10:30, the airport would close except for emergencies.
Today, in theory, the last flight at National must be scheduled for 10 p.m. In fact, a study of National records shows, 16 to 20 flights are scheduled to take off or land exactly at 10p.m. , and many of them limp in after that. Furthermore, general aviation planes and some business jets are allowed to take off or land at all hours of the night.
Theproposal, if it survives Transportation Secretary Brock Adams' office essentially as written, is certain to generate controversy.
The 650-mile perimeter is regarded by antinoise activists as the one factor protecting the airport from enormous passenger growth. But seven cities outside the perimeter-including Chicago, Miami and St. Louis-receive nonstop service from National and airlines have scheduled numerous long-haul flights into National with intermediate stops at other cities. In 1977, National Airport had two-thirds of the 19 million passengers who used the area's three big airports. According to knowledgeable FAA sources, the reduction in major airline slots and the nighttime ban should reduce National's share to 50 percent of passengers by 1990.
Furthmore, anything that deprives a congressman of his nonstop flight home is potentially painful for National's owner, the FAA. Appropriations hearings on the FAA's budget are scheduled next week.
The proposals also leave unresolved the question of how National's slots will be allocated among the airlines in an era of deregulation. The slots at National and other heavily used airports are presently distributed by the airlines themselves. That arrangement is possible only because the airlines have an antitrust exemption from the Civil Aeronautics Board, which is going out of business under deregulation. The FAA has a committee studying the slot allotment issue.
Jumbo jets, such as the Lockheed L-1011, the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 and the airbus Industrie A-300 would be allowed into National, under the proposal, only if they could demonstrate the ability to operate safely and the terminal capacity to handle the loads of people. The A-300 and the DC-10 have already made test flights to National.