THOUGH THERE WAS much for this region to cheer about in the final congressional out- box of legislation before adjournment, the lawmakers flew out of here without doing what they should have to balance air traffic at the two federally owned airports. No surprise here: these members of Congress use National with a vengeance, and like to treat it as if it were their very own; and they always seem to look the other way when people talk about sane limits on flights and the number of passengers descending on National. So where does that leave the future of National and Dulles?
For the time being, it's status quo -- noise and all. An effort by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole to set a new reasonable ceiling on the number of passengers using National did not make it through the Senate. While there may be an effort to try again next year, the focus this week and into the future will be on a larger issue also being pressed by Secretary Dole: Who should operate National and Dulles if and when the federal government doesn't?
A commission headed by former Virginia governor Linwood Holton Jr. is meeting this week in an effort to come up with proposals for how the airports could be transferred to a regional authority. Though there already have been some disagreements over the relative influence that Virginia, Maryland and the District should have on the commission, that should not upstage the more serious obstacle to progress -- Congress.
The eventual authority operating the two airports should be regional, and not Virginia-dominated merely because that's where the airports are. They serve the region and, face it, they serve Congress as well, and any transfer will no doubt have to reflect both these facts. That is why congressional participation in these deliberations is important, and it is why the attempt to come up with recommendations before the year is out should not flag.