The nation's major airlines yesterday endorsed transferring National and Dulles International airports from federal to local control, but attached conditions that drew angry responses from antinoise activists.
The Air Transport Association, which represents most major airlines, urged that any new regional airport authority not be allowed to reduce the number of flights currently permitted at National or limit the number of passengers using the airport, spokesman Daniel Z. Henkin said.
The statement is the first public support for the transfer plan from the politically powerful airlines, which are not always able to reach a consensus.
Their position increases the chances that Congress will pass the plan, according to former Virginia governor Linwood Holton, who headed a commission that developed the plan after Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole suggested it in June.
Partly because of a regulatory quirk, transfer of the airports to local control would eliminate the existing 16-million limit set on the number of passengers permitted through National annually.
The plan is silent on whether the ceiling should be reinstated by a local regulation.
The ceiling has been opposed in the past by the airlines and some members of Congress, who enjoy the airport's convenience.
The airlines yesterday urged removal of the ceiling, and said transfer legislation should freeze the number of carrier flights in and out of National at 37 per hour, the current limit.
The airlines also urged that rules be adopted to grant post-curfew landing rights at National for all new-technology aircraft with engines that meet the most stringent federal noise standards.
Under present rules, McDonnell Douglas' MD80s are quiet enough to land at National after the 10:30 p.m. curfew, but Boeing's 737-300 is just a decibel or two louder, and thus may not qualify.
USAir, National Airport's second largest tenant, is acquiring a fleet of 737-300s; American and Trans World airlines already use MD80s for post-curfew flights.
Antinoise activists said yesterday the ATA's demands would harm their efforts to reduce traffic at National.
Such a proposal "condemns the community to live with the present intolerable level of operations at National and really leaves us without any legal mechanism to effect reductions at the airport ," said Eric Bernthal, a longtime antinoise activist and founder of the Coalition on Airport Problems.
"If this is the way it goes forward, it's a disaster for this community," he said.
Holton said he is "pleased" the plan has gained the airlines' endorsement, but cautioned that it will not succeed without the support of local residents and their elected officials.
"It's essential that all three of those groups [the airlines, local government officials and antinoise activists] be supportive of this bill," Holton said.
Bernthal said his coalition will lobby vigorously to exclude the airlines' demands from the transfer legislation. "We'll fight it tooth and nail," he said.
The administration's legislation is still in draft form, pending clearance from some government departments, but the current version includes the airlines' request for a freeze on the number of hourly slots, according to a DOT official who asked not to be named.
The official said the legislation will probably be submitted to Congress by next week.