The History of National Airport
Nancy Norgaard Knickerbocker, Ph.D.
CAAN obtained this history from the author who wrote it in 1990 as one chapter of her doctoral dissertation on the effects of National Airport on local real estate values. The history provides an interesting backdrop to the on-going discussions about the eventual fate of National Airport. It covers the early days of the airport and how politics played a major role in its formation and expansion. It also shows how many times promises were made and broken. CAAN thanks Dr. Knickerbocker for allowing us to publish it.
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Until 1987, Washington National Airport was owned and operated by the federal government. Ultimately, National's relationship with the federal government had considerable bearing on the impact of the airport upon surrounding communities. This chapter presents a review of National's history through June of 1987, when the control of the airport was transferred to a local authority.The review is divided into four parts. Part I describes events from 1927 through 1965, including the circumstances that led to National's federal ownership and dictated its future in a world of rapidly changing aircraft technology and airline economics. Part II describes events from 1966 through 1969, beginning with the January 1966 announcement by the Federal Aviation Agency that commercial jets would be allowed into National. Part III covers the period from 1970 through the fall of 1983, years when the environmental movement in the United States was a major political and legal force and when National's neighbors, who renamed the airport "The Filthy Beast of the Potomac" (Katz 1971, 45) took its proprietors to court. Part IV, covering the period from the fall of 1983 through June 1987, describes (1) the proposals to distribute the noise from National more equitably, resulting in the "Scatter Plan Test," and (2) the enactment of legislation to transfer control of National to a regional authority.
Part I, 1926 - 1965The Air Commerce Act of 1926
From mid-1926, when the Air Commerce Act became law, through mid-1938, when it was repealed, National Airport's history was dominated by a clause in the Air Commerce Act that prohibited the federal government from owning and operating commercial airports. Establishing an airport for the nation's capital was left to the government of the District of Columbia. But because Congress had the final say on the District's budget, establishing an airport for the capital became the business of Congress as well.National's predecessors were two privately operated airfields that were established side-by-side. One was Hoover Field, named after then Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover and constructed in 1926 in a record five and a half days (Milner Collection, "Sesquicentennial Attraction"). The other, Washington Airport opened for business in 1927 on a tract of land directly adjacent to Hoover. The two airfields merged into one facility in 1930 under the name of Washington-Hoover Airport. Located in that part of Arlington, Virginia, where the Pentagon is now, Washington-Hoover was a "masterpiece of inept siting"; (Wilson 1979, 34); nevertheless, it functioned as the capital's civil airport until replaced by National in 1941.The area where National was finally located, mud flats on a part of the Potomac river known as "Gravelly Point"; was first proposed as a site for the capital's airport in a bill submitted to Congress in early 1927. Though the bill did not clear the House District Committee, later that year, Congress and the Bureau of the Budget both approved a District proposal for an airport at Gravelly Point. In this instance it was President Calvin Coolidge who vetoed the plan, while making known his views that the matter of the airport’s location should be left to Congress (Milner Collection, "To-Do About a Port of Call").During the next decade, Congress appointed one committee after another to examine suitable sites. The work of the committees resulted in years of committee reports, but no airport. In 1937, when alternative sites had been narrowed to three, President Roosevelt vetoed a bill to improve Washington–Hoover. This reduced the alternatives to two: Gravelly Point and Camp Springs, Maryland, where Andrews Air Force Base is now located (Wilson 1979, 35).
The Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938
In late June 1938, President Roosevelt signed into law the Civil Aeronautics Act, which repealed the Air Commerce Act and permitted the federal government to own and operate commercial airports. Soon thereafter, and while Congress was in recess, the President instructed the newly established Civil Aeronautics Authority to pick a site for the airport. It picked Gravelly Point. Though mostly mud flats under water, the site was only three and half miles from the Capitol. All the underwater rights and most of the required land were owned by the federal government. The president quickly approved the choice because, as he said at a late September press conference, he was '"tired of waiting for Congress"' (U.S. Department of Transportation [DOT] 1971,1).Funds for the project were available from congressional appropriations for the 1930's depresssion-created Public works Administration (PWA) and Works Project Administration (WPA) and were under the president's control. In November PWA and WPA funds were allocated to the project, and work began. With most of the proposed landing area of the 680 acre site under water, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the only economical way of providing fill was by hydraulic dredging. Four hydraulic dredges, three of which were the largest in the world, filled 325 acres of marsh land with 19 1/2 million cubic yards of material pumped from the bottom of the Potomac River (Duryee 1952, 99-100).In late September 1940, two years after the president announced the selection of the site, he laid the cornerstone of the terminal building. In his dedication speech he referred to "Washington National Airport." This and a public law to provide for the administration of "Washington National Airport" are the origins of its name (Boyle 1962). On 1 June 1941, the airport that was never officially named opened for service. By the end of its first full year of operations, it was the second busiest airport in the nation. It was also again in a controversy over its location: was it in the District of Columbia or in Virginia? The boundary between the two jurisdictions was established in 1846 as the mean high-water mark along the Virginia shore of the Potomac. Construction of the airport had changed the mark. Confusion followed. When police were called following a burglary, neither the District nor the Virginia claimed jurisdiction. Finally, in 1945, Congress settled the issue by passing another law supporting the 1846 law that the boundary was at the mean-high water mark, wherever that might be. National Airport therefore was located in Virginia, but with the proviso of concurrent U.S. jurisdiction (Wilson 1979, 41).
The Second Washington Airport Act of September 7, 1950
In September 1950, Congress authorized a second airport for the Capital region and appropriated money for land acquisition. The move was made necessary by severe congestion of National's ground facilities and by saturated airspaces overhead from operations at National combined with those of two close-by military air bases. The following year the White House recommended Burke, Virginia, as the site, and condemnations proceedings and land acquisition began. Immediately, however, the Burke selection ran into strong opposition from the area's residents who were supported in their fight by their representatives in Congress. They also found support from the Maryland delegation. From the start, Marylanders had objected to spending federal funds for a second airport when Baltimore's Friendship International Airport, which began operations in 1950 and was described in Life Magazine (November 1951) as "The Lonely Big Airport," was available for the purpose. Thus began a site-selection controversy that was similar to the one that had plagued the construction of National.While the site debate dragged on, National's congestion problems intensified, as did concern in Congress that "something tragic is going to happen at Washington National Airport" (Rochester 1976, 118). Feared was a repeat of the midair collision between a commercial and military aircraft in National's airspace that took 54 lives in 1949. Finally, In August 1957, Congress acted by once again appropriating money for a second Washington airport; but this time it specified that the money could not be spent until President Eisenhower had formally and publicly decided on a site (Burkhardt 1967, 161). In January 1958, the President sent to Congress the recommendation of Chantilly, Virginia, as the site. Within the month land acquisition (10,000 acres) began, and in September construction began in earnest (Lawhead 1984, 6 - 7).Chantilly, a rural area 26 miles from Washington, was initially rejected as a site because it was too far away from downtown Washington. In the eyes of much of the traveling public, it would remain too far away for years to come. This fact was central to the future problems of the airport, officially named "Dulles International" by Executive Order (Rochester 1976, 165). The distance to Dulles would complicate the future of National as well.When Dulles, the nation's first airport specially designed for jets, opened to scheduled service on 20 November 1962, regular commercial jet service in the Untied States was four years old; commercial jets had been banned at National, and Baltimore's Friendship International was prospering from its monopoly on the area's commercial jet traffic. Still, even without jets, National was the nation's fourth ranking airport in 1962 and was handling, on average, a plane a minute (Rochester 1976, 165). It was also returning a substantial amount of money from operating profits to the U.S. Treasury.By late 1965, when airlines servicing Dulles had "an average of 89 daily flights" (U.S. Congress, House 1966a, 119) and Dulles was operating with a large deficit, its problems could be traced to two facts: the air-traveling public did not want to drive 26 miles to an airport with relatively few inconveniently scheduled flights, and the airlines did not want to go where the public did not want to go. Airlines and passengers alike preferred highly convenient, severely congested National which, with its more than 600 daily flights, continued to return money to the Treasury and make substantial profits for air carriers (In 1965, airline ticketing at National exceeded $100 million [Burkhardt 1967, 167]).
The Jet Ban at National and Changing Aviation Technology
In November 1959, the newly established and independent Federal Aviation Agency (the FAA) banned all pure jet operations at National. The FAA's decision did not appear to create a controversy. Several reasons explain why. First, the FAA, the proprietor of National and Dulles, conditioned its decision to ban pure jets "pending completion of Dulles" (U.S. DOT 1971, 6). Second, National's runways were neither long enough nor strong enough for regular use by the heavy, four-engined, long-haul pure jets - Boeing's 707 and Douglas's DC- 8 - operating then. Third, Marylanders, whose concern was traffic growth at Baltimore's Friendship International, had no reason to object to the ban. And fourth, National's neighbors, whose concern was aircraft noise, welcomed the ban.Even without jets, aircraft noise in the vicinity of National was a problem for the FAA and its first administrator, Elwood Quesada, who received complaints at home until he obtained an unlisted telephone number (Rochester 1976, 246). Accordingly, in November 1960, National, the nation's third busiest airport in air carrier operations, became the nation's third airport for which the FAA prescribed noise abatement procedures (Rochester 1976, 247).From 1961 through 1965, changing aviation technology set the stage for new aircraft noise problems at National. The course of events and their consequences were as follows:
1. In 1961, the French-built Caravelle, a two engine jet designed for short-haul operations and in scheduled service in Europe since 1959, was introduced into the United States by American Airlines (Caan ed. note: actually it was United Airlines that introduced the Caravelle †). 2. By early 1964, the Boeing 727-100 was in scheduled service in the United States and was soon followed by the smaller DC-9, the British BAC-111, and the stretch version, i.e., the larger version of the DC-9 - all short to medium haul jets. Then in August of 1965, Boeing announced the coming stretch version of the B-727 (the 200), an aircraft capable of getting in and out of the nation's smaller airports such as National.
3. By 1965, Boeing's 727-100 was the workhorse of the nation's commercial airline fleet; National was the only major airport in the country without commercial jets; and with more than 70 U.S. airports offering jet service by then, scheduling was becoming a critical problem for the airlines serving National.
4. By the end of 1966, one major airline serving National would be all jet, another would be all jet by the end of 1967, and almost all by 1969 (U.S. Congress, Senate 1969, 8670).
Following the arrival of the Caravelle, increased pressure on the FAA from the air lines and Congressmen to open National to jets led its second administrator, Nageeb Halaby, to allow demonstration flights into the airport. This did not lead to lifting of the ban; however, Halaby acknowledged privately that lifting of the ban was only a matter of time (Kent 1980, 86) An alternative to commercial jets at National was to let the airport become an airfield for local service and general aviation. (General aviation jets were not banned at National.) The FAA maintained, however, that Congress ruled this alternative out when it designated Dulles the "additional Washington airport" (U.S. Congress, Senate 1966, 8671). From the point of view of the airlines, the issue was economics. National was big business. Jets, which were appreciably larger than propeller planes, would be highly profitable when operated from National where high passenger load factors were guaranteed.By 1965, pressure on the FAA to open National to commercial jets was coming not only from the airlines, but from the Washington press and, of course, from Congress. The attitude in Congress was summarized by Congressman Samuel Devine in a letter to FAA's third administrator, General McKee: "It is high time a realistic and logical approach be taken to this serious matter" (U.S. Congress, House 1965, 24696).
The Economic and Noise Effects of Jets at National, the ORI Report
In June 1965, the FAA contracted with a private consulting firm, Operations Research, Inc. (ORI), to prepare a study of the Economic Feasibility of Alternative Programs for Washington National Airport (ORI 1966). The purpose of what became a lengthy, two-volume analysis was the assessment of the economic consequences of three alternatives: banning all jets at National, banning only large, four engine jets, or lifting the ban on all jet aircraft. The three alternatives, the report said, implied different financial investments by the federal government, different levels of benefits for the public, and different levels of aircraft noise. The principal conclusions of the ORI report centered on opening National to two and three-engine jet operations. These conclusions were:
1. Dulles would still experience vigorous growth.
2. Passenger volume at Friendship would grow at a faster rate than the area's total volume.
3. Public benefits would amount to 1.5 million hours of travel time saved over the next 15 years, providing an annual benefit of approximately $15 million for the next 15 years.
4. The public benefits from saved travel time could warrant an investment by the federal government of up to $150 million for modernization and expansion of National to accommodate the jets.
5. The area affected by aircraft noise would decline somewhat through 1970 as the larger capacity jets replaced the smaller propeller aircraft and, as a consequence, the airport’s traffic volume declined; but after 1970 the noise impacted area would grow.
Some of the economic consequences of jets at National were, the report stated, beyond reliable estimation for lack of an accepted method. Included in this group were the monetary effects on property values from aircraft noise.
Part II, 1966 - 1969
On 11 January 1966, the FAA announced its decision to open National to two- and three-engined short haul jet operations beginning April 24. The announcement, drawing on the ORI report, asserted that jet noise levels around National would be "about the same" as those of the pre-jet period, and that short haul jet operations at National would "not prevent the continued growth of other area airports, Dulles International and Friendship International" (U.S. Congress, House 1966a, 119).To assure that Dulles continued to serve the long haul domestic and international markets and that traffic at National was kept under control, air carriers had "voluntarily" agreed to limit the first nonstop flight segment of any flight to or from National to within 650 miles, with seven exceptions. The exceptions to what became known as the perimeter rule were seven grandfathered cities within 1000 miles of National that had nonstop service as of 1 December 1965. The agreement, which was filed with the Civil Aeronautics Board and approved the Board in May 1966, initially extended to 1 January 1967 (CAB order E-23743 ) (air carriers, in fact, continued to adhere to the "voluntary" perimeter rule until 1981). Before the January 11th announcement, the airlines had also agreed to maintain the same daily flight schedule at Dulles that was in effect on 1 October 1965 (U.S. Congress, House 1966a, 119).To reduce the effects of jet noise in the vicinity of National, the airlines had also "voluntarily" agreed not to schedule turbojet flights after 10:00 P.M. nor before 7:00 A.M. nor to operate jets after 11:00 P.M. The jet curfew was not formally agreed to by general aviation; private and corporate jets continued to operate to and from National over a 24 hour period.The FAA's claim that noise levels around National would remain about the same as they were without jets was based upon the voluntary night curfew agreement, prescribed noise abatement procedures for jets, which tests had shown could keep their perceived noise to a level below that of piston aircraft (Kent 1980, 163), and several assumptions. The FAA assumed that the ORI report was correct in its prediction that aircraft traffic volumes for National would fall somewhat through 1970 as the airlines replaced their smaller capacity propeller planes with the larger capacity jets. The FAA also assumed that ground level noise would be reduced because of the perimeter rule. Since the first flight segment was restricted to 650 miles, planes were expected to take off light on fuel and therefore be up and away quickly (U.S. Federal Aviation Agency 1966).The decision to open National to commercial jets was made by the FAA without public hearings. The Administrative Procedures Act, which prescribed methods for such actions, does not require federal agencies to hold public hearings in matters relating to public property (APA 1946). Those who strongly objected to the decision, such as area residents who lived along the Potomac River and Maryland's Congressmen, were faced with a fait accompli. Senator Brewster of Maryland scheduled a hearing, but canceled it when FAA Administrator General McKee declined to attend. Senator Brewster then sponsored a public meeting on 13 April 1966 where those who objected to the FAA's decision, principally for reasons of jet noise, had a chance to express their concerns (U.S. Congress, Senate 1966, 8667-8683). Eleven days later the jets came to National.April 24, 1966, was a Sunday and, according to the press, thousands of visitors came out to National to witness its much publicized entrance into the jet age. Other area residents, however, telephoned the airport to complain about jet noise (Burrows 1966a, 1[A]). Even if the level of noise around the airport remained about the same, the high pitched whine of jets was more annoying than the noise from piston aircraft. Anticipating an unusual number of complaints that day, the FAA had set up a noise complaint center - which continued to this day - where callers locations were plotted on an area map. Complaints came from all over and were more in number than the FAA had expected (Kent 1980, 163). Arven Saunders, director of National and Dulles, was quick to explain that the problem was with the pilots who were not used to operating jets from National and therefore not following the noise abatement procedures exactly (Burrows 1966a, 1[A]).
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
During the month that followed, little worked out as the FAA had expected. As confirmed by the Official Airline Guide, the airlines did not adhere to the agreement to maintain the daily flight schedule at Dulles that had been in effect in October 1965. Nor did they adhere to the "spirit" of the perimeter rule, but used a loophole in the rule to provide long haul service from National. Planes took off from National, landed at a city within the 650 mile, grandfathered cities perimeter, then took off again for as far away as the West Coast with passengers from National still on board (Burrows 1966b).The air carriers also mover quickly to replace propeller planes servicing National with the larger capacity jets. The number of daily flights at the airport did not decline as ORI had predicted. By the end of May the result was a decrease of 15,000 passengers at Dulles and an increase of 16,000 at National (U.S. Federal Aviation Agency 1967, 16) where the terminal was so congested it was described by the press as a mad scene (Burrows 1966b).On 3 June Arven Saunders, director of National and Dulles, served notice on the 13 airlines operating at National. Either they came up with a solution to the problem of the airport's overloaded facilities by 10 June, or the FAA would impose a solution (Burrows 1966b).The solution submitted by the airlines met their requirements, but not the FAA's (U.S. Congress, House 1966b, 17263 - 17264). The Agency countered on 1 July with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (31 Fed. Reg. 9148 ) which, among other things, set the perimeter at 500 miles, with no exceptions, and scheduled hourly operations to 40 for the air carriers.The 500 mile perimeter met a storm of protests. According to FAA Administrator McKee, it was considered by many as an "unfair and discriminatory ruling against a number of areas" (U.S. Congress, House 1966b, 17263). More specifically, many members of Congress whose jurisdictions, by accident of geography, were beyond 500 miles regarded the reduced perimeter as unfair and discriminatory and required that the FAA review its proposal (U.S. Congress, House 1966b, 17263).On 27 July 1966, the FAA issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: "Limitations Governing Number of Air Carrier Operations Each Hour at Washington National Airport" (14 Code CFR, Par 159, Docket No. 7526; Notice 66-29). The Notice began with a statement of objectives. It then got down to the purpose. It stated: (1) the instrument flight capacity of the airport was approximately 60 operations per hour and, on the basis of historical use, 40 of these would be allocated to the air carriers, with allowance for extra sections; and (2) the limitation of 40 flights per hour for air carriers would take effect September 1 or at the end of the airline strike, if that came later, unless the air carriers had by then voluntarily agreed to the hourly limitation. The strike the notice referred to was one of the worst in aviation history and affected five major airlines. The notice also stated that the original 650 mile perimeter with seven grandfathered cities would continue in effect; but, the director of National [and Dulles] must approve the type of airplanes used to perform operations.By 1 September the air carriers were operating under the self-imposed limitation of 40 scheduled operations per hour. Still, Arven Saunders later remarked:
The Agency has a notice of proposed rule making ready to go . . . if the matter of congestion again should get out of hand (March, 1967).
Soon thereafter the Federal Aviation Agency lost its independent status. On 1 April 1967. it was transferred to the Department of Transportation (DOT) which officially came into being that day. No longer independent, the agency became the Federal Aviation Administration (the FAA), and the problems of National became the problems of the Secretary of Transportation.Though the 27 July 1966 Notice was not reissued, National's ground congestion problems did not go away. By June 1967, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) was investigating what steps it might take to solve the problem. The CAB had responsibility for the economic regulation of the air carriers and could, by means of its power of certification of the air carriers, shift some service from National to Dulles or Friendship. By 1968, however, DOT was developing its " High Density Rule;" and at DOT's request the CAB's investigation was put on hold (Lawhead 1984,21). On 1 June 1969, the controversial High Density rule took effect, thereby restricting activity at five of the nation's most congested airports. At National, the High Density Rule meant the following:
The rule formally restricted, under IFR conditions, air carriers to 40 scheduled flights per hour exclusive of extra sections (a concession to Eastern Airlines and its highly profitable New York - Washington shuttle) and in addition provided a means of limiting general aviation to 12 operations per hour during IFR conditions and air taxi operations to 8 per hour (U.S. DOT 1971, 7).
Expanding and Modernizing National
Concurrent with its announcement that jets were coming to National, the FAA announced that an architect - engineering firm, Kling and Associates, would produce designs that would be the basis for a comprehensive plan to modernized National's facilities. Area residents concerned about National's noise, Marylanders concerned about traffic growth at Friendship, and Virginians concerned about lack of traffic at Dulles were strongly opposed to the Kling Master Plan, issued in 1968, as well as to several master plans that followed. From their viewpoint, an expanded, modernized National would be a more attractive National that would lead to increased demand for its services.Though the FAA strongly recommended implementing the Kling Plan to the Secretary of DOT (Lawhead 1984, 27), no federal funds were forthcoming then or later for a comprehensive modernization of National's ground facilities. Several major, unresolved issues blocked the way. These were: (1) Who should own and manage National and Dulles - should the FAA/DOT be out of the business? (2) What should be the role of each airport in meeting the area's air transportation needs? and (3) What should be the operating policy for National while under the FAA's control? These issues are discussed in the sections that follow.
Part III, 1979 - 1983
As National entered the decade of the 1970's, the FAA's objectives for National, as defined in the 1966 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, were implemented through voluntary agreements with the airlines and one regulation - the High Density Rule. The 1966 objectives were, in part:
To provide the optimum utilization of Washington National Airport . . . to emphasize its role as a short haul . . . airport, to reduce undue congestion, to maintain efficient runway operations, and to improve service to the traveling public (Federal Register, 9148, ).
Implicit in these objectives was the need to protect Dulles by maintaining its role as the airport in the Washington area that served the long haul domestic and international markets.Throughout the 1970's and beyond, the FAA's objectives for National did not change, though two more were added: (1) "to reduce the aircraft noise and congestion associated with the prevailing use Washington National; and (2) to presecribe a role for Washington National and Dulles International Airports which . . . will permit orderly planning . . . for the future of these facilities" (46 Federal Register, 58037, ). In addition, the objective for Dulles was made explicit: "to promote better utilization of Dulles Airport" (46 Federal Register, 58037, ).What else did not change over the years was the clear preference of air travelers for National over Dulles and the inclination of air carriers to provide long haul service from National to destinations beyond the 650 mile, grandfathered cities perimeter. The airlines continued to manage this by the simple expedient of scheduling the first stop within the perimeter before proceeding on to the long haul destination.Problems such as these in conjunction with the FAA's proposals and funding requests for modernizing National's facilities ultimately dictated that DOT (FAA) establish an explicit operating policy for the two airports it managed. This task was to take nearly ten years. It would involve a number of environmental impact statements and policy proposals that were presented for public review and comment. The decade began, however, with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which figured prominently in the events that followed.
NEPA v. FAA
On January 1, 1970, President Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. Section 102 of the Act reads in part as follows:
All agencies of the Federal government shall . . . (C) include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by the responsible official on . . . (i) the environmental impact of the proposed action, (ii) any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented, (iii) alternatives to the proposed action.
Under NEPA, an important action or policy change that is undertaken by a federal; administrator without considering its environmental consequences or without considering alternatives to the action may be considered arbitrary and capricious and subject to reversal by the courts.On 9 April 1970, FAA Administrator, Jack Shaffer, lifted the ban at National on the stretch version, i.e., the larger version, of the Boeing 727 (the 200) "on an interim basis pending conclusion of the [air traffic] controllers' slowdown" (Lawhead, 1984, 23). The slowdown, a type of strike that added more congestion and delays to an already over-burdened air traffic system, was concluded on 18 April; but, Administrator Shaffer decided that the 727-200's could continue to operate from National while the FAA studied what adverse impact, if any, they had on conditions at National and Dulles (Lawhead 1984,23).The conclusion of the FAA's study was that the stretch jet had no adverse impact on either airport (U.S. Congress, Senate 1971, 7182). Senator Spong of Virginia, a strong supporter of more traffic at Dulles and one who had been assured by the FAA that the stretch jets would not be permitted at National, argued to the contrary. He pointed out after the first full year of stretches at National, passenger traffic there had increased by 550,000 while during the same period, Dulles and Friendship had lost by 20,000 and 200,000, respectively (U.S. Congress, Senate 1972, 7744). The issue for the airlines, as described by Friendship’s director, was economics. It did not pay the airlines to operate one flight from Dulles and another from Friendship going, say, to St. Louis if they could operate one big (stretch) jet out of National going to the same destination with a full load of passengers (U.S. Congress, Senate 1971, 7182).In December 1970, a coalition of citizens groups and individuals - Virginians For Dulles, et al. - brought suit against the FAA, its parent DOT, and the major airlines serving National (Virginians for Dulles et al. v. John Volpe et al.). The coalition included former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, former D.C. City Chairman John Hechinger, and Virginia State Senator, Clive duVal II. The coalition, which was seeking abatement of noise and air pollution from jets at National, charged that the airport's jet traffic was a nuisance that violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights, and that the FAA's actions with respect to National were in violation of NEPA and the Administrative Procedures Act. More specifically, plaintiffs charged that the FAA was in violation of NEPA by failing to file environmental impact statements concerning its operation of National and Dulles and by failing to file an impact statement at the time of its decision to allow stretch jets into National. The coalition, as its name implied, was seeking to have a proportion of National's jet traffic diverted to Dulles (or Friendship). On 26 May 1972, the United States District Court, Eastern District, Virginia, handed down its opinion. Relief was denied on all grounds.The court ruled that the FAA was not required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning its ongoing and future activities at National because "no case has yet held that NEPA's requirements apply to such an ongoing project" (VFD v. Volpe, 578 ). Nor was the FAA required to prepare an EIS concerning its decision to allow stretch jets into National because this was not a "major action" (VFD v. Volpe, 578 ). The Court also found that evidence failed to establish that noise from aircraft at National "had any direct effect on health of persons on the ground" or "any adverse effect on property values in the vicinity of the airport and the flight paths" (VFD v. Volpe 565, 576). Further, and contrary to a 1970 California Supreme Court decision (Aaron v. City of Los Angeles), the Court held that computer- generated NEF [a pre-cursor noise metric to present day Day Night Level (DNL)] values were insufficiently accurate "for use in a court of law as a predictor of community response to noise" (VFD v. Volpe, 578). In writing the opinion for the Court, Judge albert Bryan, Jr. concluded by stating:
The Court feels that this is a case where balancing of the equities is applicable. Taking into account what the Court feels to be the relevant factors of traveling public convenience and service; economic impact on the community and on the airlines . . . , burdensome as it may be, plaintiffs must submit to the great annoyance in the public interest . . . (VFD v. Volpe, 579).
On 2 June 1976, the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, handed down it decision in the case of Virginians For Dulles by Clive L. duVal, etc. et al. v. John Volpe, Individually and as Secretary of Transportation, et al. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court in part and reversed it in part. It ordered the FAA to file an environmental impact statement. In the opinion of the Court:
Facts stipulated by the parties . . . demonstrate that the FAA's activities do fall within the scope of section 4332 (2) (C). Theses facts show that the population near the airports is growing and that the number of aircraft operations and passengers has steadily increased. The parties also stipulated that in 1972 the FAA included $26,000,000 in its budget request as the federal government's share of 'a major modernization of National.' We hold that the FAA's acquiescence in this vastly expanded use of the airports requires an impact statement (VFD by duVal v. Volpe. 445 ).
Referring to a Senate report, the Court held that its conclusion that an impact statement was required was supported by the legislative history of NEPA. The Senate report stated: '" major actions . . . include project proposals, proposals for new legislation, regulations, policy statements, or expansion or revision of ongoing programs . . . which would have a significant effect upon the quality of the human environment"' (ibid. at 446).In August 1979, Virginians For Dulles were once again before U.S. District Court Judge Albert Bryan, Jr. The federal government was represented by a Justice Department attorney of whom Judge Bryan was quoted as asking: '" What possible excuse can the government have for failing to produce an impact statement . . ? It takes three and a half years to produce a . . . statement? That's appalling . . . I'll continue this for one week, but then I want exact dates and times"' (Meyers 1979, 3 [B]).
Environmental Impact Statements and an Operating Policy for National
The Court-ordered Final EIS was issued by the FAA on 15 August 1980. In September 1981, the FAA issued a Final Supplement to the August, 1980 EIS. It was the last of six issued in either draft form or supplement or final form in conjunction with DOT's (FAA's) attempts to establish an operating policy for the two airports it managed.Back in early 1973, DOT (FAA) issued it first proposed policy for National along with a draft EIS (38 Federal Register, 2711 ). The 1973 proposal and those that came later defined the roles for National and Dulles and included among the implementing regulations a perimeter rule designed to assure that National's limited capacity was reserved for short to medium haul service. Other proposals or modifications of proposals were issued in 1978, twice in 1980, and again in 1981. Final rules to implement the 15 August 1980 policy were issued, but were revoked by final rules to implement 1981 policy. The rules became effective 30 November 1981, apart from the nighttime noise limitations which took effect 1 March 1982 (46 Federal Register, 58036 ).The principal implementing regulations of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Policy of 1981 applied to National only and were as follows:
1. A growth limitation of “ceiling” of 16 million passengers annually;
2. a nonstop perimeter of 1000 statute miles with no exceptions;
3. an allocation of slots (i.e., takeoffs and landings) of 37 scheduled operations per hour for air carriers utilizing aircraft with 56 or more passenger seats (except for extra sections which need not obtain a slot), 11 per hour for commuter air carriers using aircraft with less than 56 passenger seats, and 12 per hour for general aviation;
4. a wide-body aircraft ban unless otherwise directed by the administrator of the FAA and director of the airport on a case-by-case basis;
5. a nighttime noise limitation on aircraft operated after 9:59 P.M. and before 7:00 A.M. such that no aircraft generating more than 72 dBA on takeoff may depart and no aircraft generating more than 85 dBA on approach may land during these hours except for aircraft scheduled to arrive before 10:00 P.M. that have received an approach clearance before 10:30 P.M. [Editor's note: It was stated by the government that with these noise restrictions values, there wouldn't be any planes meeting them for quite a while. A month or two later, 757s and MD-80s were approved to use nighttime hour schedules.]
The principal non regulatory aspects of the policy were that the FAA would undertake master planning for improving National's ground facilities and would actively promote improvements in ground transportation to Dulles.
During the approximately ten years that DOT tried to put in place an operating policy for National, events occurred that intensified the need to protect Dulles. In July 1977, Washington Metro Rapid Rail System extended its service to National. With the airport now a 15 minute, 65 cents metro fare away from the Capitol, its reputation for convenience, already high, went even higher. Still, by far the worst disaster for Dulles, apart from jets coming to National in 1966, came from the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. During the first years following its enactment, the airlines repositioned themselves, abandoning less profitable routes for more profitable ones. The effect upon Dulles was to threaten its very existence, as one airline and then another either stopped servicing Dulles entirely or cut down on the number of daily flights. At National the number of airlines increased. For the first time, the FAA tried economic incentives to attract air carriers to its unpopular airport. In 1980, it dropped all landing fees and mobile lounge user charges at Dulles. This action, however, was by no means enough. Protecting Dulles called for regulations that controlled National's passenger growth and maintained Dulles' role as the area's airport serving long-haul destinations.
Regulations were issued on 15 September 1980 to implement the 15 August 1980 policy. Like the 1981 regulations that superseded them, the 1980 regulations included among the rules a nonstop perimeter rule for National of 1000 statute miles, no exceptions. During the period when the effective date for the 1980 regulations was moved ahead and moved ahead again to October 1981, the airlines reacted to the new perimeter rule by challenging it in the courts and, in the case of three airlines, by announcing plans to fly nonstop to National from Houston and Dallas, Texas. To stop the three airlines from carrying out their plan, Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis ordered the FAA to issue an interim perimeter regulation that maintained the 1986, 650 mile perimeter (46 Federal Register, 58036 ). The airlines countered by adding the interim perimeter rule to the list of regulations they had petitioned the courts to review.
"The Friendly Skies - Filled with Litigants" (City of Houston et al. v. FAA)
On 22 September 1980, the City of Houston filed a petition for review of the 15 September 1980 "1000 mile, no exceptions" perimeter rule. In addition, American Airlines, New York Air, Northwest Airlines, and the Air Transport Association filed petitions for review of one or more of the following: the 1000 mile perimeter rule, the interim perimeter rule, or the slot redistribution rule - part of the 1980 and 1981 regulations. When the petitions were consolidated in January 1981, by order of the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, and those permitted to intervene or file briefs amicus curiae were added to the list of petitioners, those involved in the litigation included two more cities, two states, a number of counties of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Virginians For Dulles.On 9 July 1982, the Appellate Court handed down its decision on the final and interim perimeter rule (City of Houston and American Airlines, Inc. v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al.). It upheld the government's actions and denied the petitions for review.
In 1979, citizens groups opposed to National's noise were also in court. One group of homeowners calling themselves "NOISE" charged the FAA with taking of their property by allowing flights over their property below 1000 feet without compensation. In a decision handed down 9 January 1981, the United States District Court, District of Columbia, ruled that since the property owners bringing suit were not owners of the property at the time of the taking, they were barred from eminent domain compensation (Joel D. Joseph v. Bond). Citing Dow v. United States, the Court stated: "The person entitled to compensation for the taking of property by the Government is the owner of the property at the time of the taking" (Joseph v. Bond, 454 ).Another group of homeowners, representing neighborhood groups in Charles County and Prince Georges County, Maryland, sought an injunction to block a 60 day test scheduled for the summer of 1979 that would extend the flight path for takeoffs to the south of National from five to ten miles. The citizens asking for the injunction and the FAA reached an out-of-court agreement. The test would be conducted, but the flight path extension would not become permanent policy without an environmental impact study (Washington Post 1979, 26 July - 16 August). In May 1980, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), which had requested the test, held a hearing on the results and, following the hearing, voted against implementing the extension (U.S. DOT, FAA Metropolitan Airports [MWA], COG 1984, 1:1-2).
Nighttime Flights at National and More Proposed Policy Changes
In August 1983, several airlines serving National began using newer technology, quieter aircraft that met the 1981 - 82 standards for operating at National during the nighttime hours. Also in 1983, and again in 1984, the FAA issued more notices of proposed rulemaking which included a reduction of the 1981 passenger ceiling and a revision of the 1981 slot allocations. Congress, however, stepped in with legislation that barred the implementation of the rules until September 1985, by which time the issue of regulations for National was part of the larger issue of legislation for transfer of National and Dulles to a local authority.
Part IV, 1983 - 1987
Fanning out the Noise, the Equitable Solution
The FAA will encourage airport proprietors, who are legally responsible for the effect of aircraft noise on the surrounding community, to assess their particular noise problem and, where local authorities determine that there is a significant problem, to develop an action plan to reduce the impact of noise (U.S. DOT, FAA 1976, 10).If people feel that their needs and concerns are being ignored, they are more likely to feel hostile towards the [aircraft] noise. Instances of annoyance . . . and complaint associated with a particular noise exposure will be greatest in rural areas, followed by suburban and urban residential areas (Newman and Beattie 1985, 21 - 21).
Most commercial jets departing (arriving) National, take off (land) from its longest runway, 18 - 36. Aircraft generally take off and land into the wind. Depending on prevailing winds, all departing planes from runway 18 - 36 follow the Potomac River north for ten miles (north operations) or follow the river south for five miles (south operations) before turning toward their destinations. In addition to following these FAA prescribed noise abatement departure routes, pilots are expected to cut back on power shortly after takeoff and to maintain reduced power until reaching the ten or five mile points. Exceptions to these procedures apply under certain weather or traffic conditions.While the procedures, as designed, reduce or eliminate aircraft noise over a number of residential areas, they add to the noise impact of communities in the neighborhoods of the ten and five mile points. There, residents get a double hit from the increase in thrust and from the fly-over noise as planes leave the river and head toward their destinations.In the case of Cabin John, the residential community at the ten mile point north of National on the Maryland side of the Potomac, the impact of jet noise on the community is made even more intrusive because of the community's low level background noise. In 1975, Cabin John and its Maryland legislators proposed to the FAA that some planes turn earlier than the ten miles. In September 1975, the FAA announced a plan for westbound planes to turn at the eight mile mark. Public hearings were held at which the FAA's proposal met intense opposition from residents in the vicinity of the eight-mile mark (Kast 1975, 1 [B]).The plan was abandoned, but not the concept of changing existing flight patterns whereby planes and their noise would be fanned out over a wider geographic area. What became known as National's scatter-plan test was inaugurated, after years of stop and go decisions, at 7:00 A.M., 24 October 1983 and terminated on 7 January 1984. Various proposals, public meetings, and community response to proposals, 1976 -1983, are described in the final report on the scatter plan (U.S. DOT. FAA, MWA, COG 1984) and in Washington National Airport FAR Part 150, 1988.As with all proposed changes for National, the scatter-plan test was not only years in the making, but subject to decisions by the courts. In September 1983, the City of Alexandria, Virginia, and Arlington County, Virginia, registered their opposition to the scheduled test by asking a U.S. district court judge in Alexandria to impose an injunction. Several weeks later, the judge's decision to grant the injunction was overturned by a U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judge. Alexandria countered by asking for an emergency hearing of a full three-judge panel of the appeals court. When there was yet no answer by 22 October, Alexandria took its case to the Supreme Court. On October 22, Chief Justice Warren Burger rejected Alexandria's appeal (Washington Post, 1983, 13 October - 23 October).In October 1984, the FAA and COG released a lengthy two-volume technical analysis of the test (U.S. DOT, FAA, MWA, COG 1984). In January 1985, a scheduled vote on the plan by COG's Board was postponed so that Maryland members could have more time to study radar track maps. In March 1985, "the Metropolitan Council of Governments, splitting along regional lines, voted to kill National Airport's scatter plan . . . The test lasted only 90 days but it created a firestorm of controversy" (Scannell 1985, 1 [C]).
Incorporate, Sell, Lease, or Transfer National Airport
On June 9, 1984, Secretary of Transportation, Elizabeth Dole, announced that she would seek legislation in the 99th Congress transferring ownership of Washington National and Washington Dulles International Airports from Federal to either regional or private sector control. At the same time, Secretary Dole announced the formation of an Advisory Commission on the Reorganization of Metropolitan Washington Airports to study what form of airport ownership would be most appropriate, and how transfer of ownership to this new entity could be facilitated (Fischer 1985, 1).
In December 1984, a majority of the 15 member Advisory "Holton" Commission - representatives from the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, the Congress, the Air Transport Association, National Business Aircraft Association, and the Regional Airlines Association - recommended to the Secretary that:
1. the airports be transferred to an independent authority created jointly by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and that the authority have the ability to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds to finance improvements at the airports;
2. the transfer should be done by long-term lease whereby the authority would make payments over a period of not more than 35 years; and
3. the authority would be governed by a board of 11 members with five appointed by the Governor of Virginia, three by the Mayor of the District, and two by the Governor of Maryland, and one by the President of the United States (U.S. Congress, Senate 1985, 373 - 374).
The four members of the Holton Commission from Maryland, while agreeing with the majority on some aspects of the proposal, recommended that:
Dulles be transferred to the Commonwealth of Virginia while National be transferred to a tripartite authority with equal representation of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (U.S. Congress, Senate, 1985, 377).
Proposals for divesting National from federal control date back to the passage of the Government Corporation Control Act of 1945 which led to a 1949 recommendation by the Hoover Commission that National be established as a government corporation. Many bills submitted in the 1960s were introduced by Maryland's Congressmen and became known as "Friendship Airport Bills" (Burkhardt 1967, 170). The Nixon Administration's proposal to sell National eventually resulted in a bill to sell the airport to the highest bidder. The bill was introduced in Congress, but hearings were not held. There was no support.Nearly two years from the time the Holton Advisory Commission submitted its recommendation to Secretary Dole, Congress approved leasing the airports to a regional authority to be governed by an 11 person board representing Maryland, Virginia, and the District. On 16 October 1986, both the House and Senate approved the Metropolitan Washington Airports Act. It was quickly approved by the President.The Transfer, described by many as an impossible feat and by one airline official as '"It's not a Girl Scout cookie sale, we're talking megabucks"' (Mintz 1985, 1 [D]), came about after a series of concessions. the majority of these revoked the 1981 regulations governing National or, as in the case of the High Density Rule, froze the number of slots to that set in 1981. The 1983 and 1984 Notices of Proposed Rulemaking would have redistributed the slots had Congress not stepped in. The concessions were:
1. Passenger Ceiling (CAP): The bill eliminated the cap.
2. Perimeter Rule: The perimeter was increased from 1000 miles to 1250 miles, the distance from National to Houston, Texas.
3. Widebody Aircraft: The Act repealed the 1981 regulation prohibiting widebody aircraft.
4. Nighttime noise: The Authority was given authority to change the 1981 - 82 restrictions.
5. High Density Rule: The Act froze the number of slots and provided that the rule may not be changed except for reasons of safety (The concession here is that the number of air carrier slots cannot be reduced).
Other concessions were: (1) a promise by Secretary Dole to Maryland's congressional delegation of $72 million in federal funds for BWI (Henderson 1987, 3[B]; (2) a board of review made up of nine members of Congress empowered to reverse the Authority's decisions.At the time of the transfer, it was not possible to assess who were the gainers and who were the losers in the transfer. Anti-noise activists were, in principal, behind the transfer on the grounds that a local operating authority would be politically closer than the FAA to their problems of the airport's intrusive noise. Commercial interests, on the other hand, believed that the authority would have "enough insulation from the community to preclude a cave-in to anti-airport activists on noise or other grounds at the expense of air commerce" (Fischer 1985, 15). One result, however, seemed certain. Another lawsuit was in the offing. As former assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget Harold Siedman was quoted as saying:
"I don’t know who will be the first to sue, but they are going to have a hell of a good case. Legislative officials cannot perform non-legislative functions. That is written in stone. Tell me who is going to believe that those nine private individuals who just happen to be members of Congress and just happen to be from specific committees are representing users out there" (Specter 1986, 2 [B]).
The first to sue were: Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc., [and additionally in the second 1991 suit] John W. Hechinger, Sr. and Craig H. Baab.
* * * * * * * *
Subsequent Actions by Congress and Litigants
Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise (CAAN) won the suit in the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress rewrote the law governing the Transfer Act, but did not substantially change the Review Board's function. CAAN sued again and won again in 1991 when the Supreme Court rejected the Airports Authority's appeal. Congress then abolished the Review Board but added two more Presidential appointees to the Authority's board of directors, and because the nominations for these Presidential appointments came from Congress, it was not surprising to see that two members (who had left Congress) from the Review Board were the first appointees.Meanwhile, Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) of 1990, making it nearly impossible for local airport boards to respond to citizens requests for noise relief. National Airport had its noise abatement procedures grandfathered in, but other airports no longer had any real control without going through an onerous Part 161 submission which was included as a requirement of the 1990 ANCA legislation. In 2001, only one airport has even tried to go through the Part 161 process.In the year 2000, Congress, under pressure from the low cost airlines, added 24 slots per day to National's authorized 39 slots for commercial jets. Twelve of these slots were established to exceed the perimeter rule distance of 1250 miles, thus allowing airlines to fly to the West Coast. After the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the National Security Council abolished National's noise abatement procedures for north operations for a period of seven months. Aircraft were ordered to fly straight line courses (instead of following the Potomac River), when departing north from the main runway or arriving from the north. Although the original procedures were restored in April of 2002, many airlines took until August of 2002 to finally adhere to the original procedures; others are still not in compliance.
† Although Dr. Knickerbocker said that American Airlines was the first to introduce the Caravelle, it has been pointed out by a knowledgeable reader that it was in fact United Airlines. This fact was also corroborated in Wikipedia.
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