The Federal Aviation and Administration announced yesterday that it will reduce the number of daily jetliner flights at Washington National Airport by 118 next year and that airlines will be permitted to use jumbo jets there for the first time.
The airport also will be limited to a maximum of 17 million passengers per year, a ceiling the FAA expects will be reached in 1983. National now handles 15.1 million passengers annually.
Those are the key elements in a formal policy the government devised for the airport after seven years of debate between noise-weary citizens and powerful congressmen who prefer to use National.
FAA Administrator Langhorne M. Bond, in announcing the policy signed by Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt, alluded to the difficulty yesterday when he referred to Congress as National's "board of directors."
In addition to the cut in airline flights, the admission of wide-bodied jets and the passenger ceiling, the new policy:
Imposes an absolute curfew on flights at National between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., the same hours as the present voluntary curfew that was "violated" by jet planes 322 times between Dec. 1 and May 31. No takeoffs will be permitted after 10:30 p.m., no landings after 11 p.m. In a concession to the many private pilots who are members of Congress, however, the policy left open the possibility that after more study, small planes might be permitted to use the airport between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Makes it possible for cities within 1,000 miles of Washington to receive nonstop service to and from National. That is an extension of the present 650-mile "perimeter" with seven exceptions -- Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, Orlando, Miami, Tampa and West Palm Beach. New candidates for nonstop service are Fort Lauderdale, Birmingham, Kansas City and New Orleans.
The perimeter's extension to include New Orleans is a concession to Sen. Russell Long (D-La.), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who would like to use direct flights from National to travel back to his home state.
The big reduction in flights will come from a cutback in the late-evening service and a reduction in the hourly quota of flights permitted by big airlines.
Major airlines are permitted 40 jet flights per hour now. That number will be cut to 36. They will be permitted a maximum of 18 scheduled flights between 9 and 9:30 p.m., and none after 9:30. Now they are permitted 40 flights between 9 and 10 p.m. and about 20 at 10 p.m.
The jumbo jets are also expected to reduce noise -- they are quieter than the planes they will be replacing even though they have more than twice as many seats in some cases.
Bond dismissed charges by the Air Line Pilots Association that flying jumbo jets into National could be unsafe.
"There is no reason to think there is any hazard," he said. "There is nothing to indicate a problem." Airlines wishing to use jumbo jets will have to submit to test flights and special experience requirements for jumbo crews. Additionally, the FAA, as the airport owner, will have to determine whether there are adequate ground facilities to handle the jets.
In fact, sections of the present National terminal occupied by Northwest Orient, TWA, Eastern, United and American airlines could already handle the jets.
Eastern Airlines has wanted to get the A300 Airbus into National and has already flown demonstration flights. "We think the introduction of [wide bodied jets] at National is essential," said Eastern Vice President James Reinke yesterday.
Although the major airlines will be taking a cut in hourly flights, the number of flights at the airport will remain the same -- 60 per hour in weather requiring instruments until 9 p.m. Small commuter airlines will gain the four slots per hour lost by the big airlines, a change that will move their hourly total to 12, meaning that much of National's hourly allotment will be reserved for small cities close to Washington.
Business and private planes' present guarantee of 12 slots per hour will continue.
A formal policy statement for National was required by the federal courts before the airport could go ahead with construction and improvements. With the policy, and barring a successful lawsuit or congressional legislation, that requirement is now met.
National has tentative plans to improve the road network leading to the airport, the connection between the airport and the Metro subway station and terminal facilities themselves.
The policy, Bond said, addressed his "primary concern, reducing the negative aspects of the use of National, not trying to force the use of Dulles."
The 17-million-passenger ceiling is a slight reduction from the ceiling of 18 million the FAA first proposed. FAA officials said the ceiling will guarantee that future airline growth in the Washington area will be diverted to Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
James A. Wilding, who runs National and Dulles for the FAA, agreed that the policy will not help Dulles much in the immediate future.
"In the long term," he said, "this is very good news for Dulles." When National reaches 17 million, the number of flights permitted will be reduced, thus forcing shifts or eliminations of those flights. Dulles has suffered a 20 percent loss in passengers this year, while National and BWI have remained stable during a down cycle for airline travel.
The FAA's policy offered far less than local citizens have sought. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments proposed a 14 million-passenger ceiling, which would have resulted in an immediate cut back at National.
Eric Bernthal, president of an umbrella anti-National group that includes 100 civic associations and various organizations, said yesterday, "I'm not surprised, but I'm disappointed." He said he was relieved that Goldschmidt did not succumb to considerable pressure from Congress to simply do nothing about the airport.
The FAA calls the 118-big jet cut an 18 percent reduction: Bernthal calls it a 10 percent reduction, because that is the reduction in one hour. "Looping off a few night flights is good," Bernthal said, "but it doesn't do anything during the day." He said his group will carefully study the FAA decision before deciding what to do.
A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, said that the group was "concerned about the prospect of a loss of public service" at National, but he had no further comment, because the airlines are divided on the issue.
Eastern, for example, badly wanted entry rights for its jumbo jet, recognized it would have to give up something to get the rights, so lobbied hard for the policy on Capitol Hill.
Air Florida, one of the successful new products of airline deregulation, has been working just as hard against it because a reduction in airline slots per hour means some airline will lose -- and Air Florida is new to National. p"We're going to have to regroup," the airline's Sandra Mitchell said.
Unresolved is the way airline slots in the schedule will be allocated. Airlines presently meet together with permission from the Justice Department, divide up the National Airport slots along with those at other busy airports, including New York's LaGuardia and Chicago's O'Hare. The airline committee recently adjourned in disarray over the fact that now, with many new airlines, there are 750 requests for 640 slots at National.
Next month, the FAA will issue a rule on how those slots are to be divided. "We intend to make sure that small cities and closer-in cities, get their share," a senior FAA official said yesterday.
Goldschmidt's statement on National Airport said simply that the slot rule "will assure that nonstop service to National is equitably distributed."