JUST WHEN the field looked good for a perfect legislative landing, there is turbulence from the airline industry that could doom a bill to let the region take over National and Dulles airports. The takeover proposal, a sensible and practical initiative on the part of Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, had been doing fine; it had won crucial regional support. But now it could be wrecked by airline-industry demands for concessions on National. If members of Congress cave in to the airlines and include these changes, the airports might as well remain in federal hands -- with all the consequences of continued imbalances in air traffic at Dulles and National.
The original idea was to get the federal government out of the airport-ownership business, to balance passenger traffic in this region and to rest control of Dulles and National with an authority responsible to the entire region. There were tradeoffs negotiated that were not exactly cheered by any interested party, but the proposal offered -- and still does -- the best possible way both to control noise at National and to balance the air traffic system.
When the Air Transport Association considered this measure last month, it endorsed the transfer -- though it did attach some conditions, including the removal of a restriction on passenger traffic at National. Still, regional control would mean airport home rule: stipulations, conditions, rules and regulations could be left with the regional authority. In short, the region could set policy later.
But now the airlines reportedly are seeking language that would 1) specifically prohibit the airport authority from ever setting any passenger cap; 2) change the noise standards to allow certain aircraft to use National all night; and 3) allow airlines to increase the number of takeoffs and landings each hour at National.
Put all this in the bill, and you have given the airlines carte blanche to turn National into a 24-hour madhouse and Dulles into a cemetary for mobile lounges. We hope members of Congress will have more vision than this when they approach the legislation, and that they will understand and appreciate the work of Mrs. Dole, of a regional commission that former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton has headed and of representatives of the various governments in this region. It would be a shame for all of this to be squandered by the airline lobby.