Air Transport World

Will Dulles drown in all that traffic?

Will Dulles drown in all that traffic? What a difference a year-and-a-half makes. In that period Washington, D.C. has gone from being a competitive service backwater to the potential site of yet another major battle between Continental Airlines and United Airlines.

For years politics was the sole determinant of air service to metropolitan Washington. The federal government owns Washington's two airports, National and a 24-year-old Dulles Int'l. (Baltimore-Washington Int'l Airport is vying for some of the same passengers, but is owned by the State of Maryland and is, primarily, designed to serve that state.) The federal government manages and funds both facilities. Congress often micromanages close-in National to preserve convenient flights and precious parking spots at the slot-limited facility.

A change of plan

Airlines also can't fly nonstop from National beyond 1,000 miles. The so-called "perimeter rule," first informan and then a formal regulation, was created to protect Dulles' original concept as the region's jetort. It also helped pacify politicians from smaller cities who were afraid of losing nonstop service to National if too many jet services were authorized. Airlines often have served Washington based on maintaining smooth relations with Congress, not on their marketing instincts.

Now Washington has become a real air market with a broad range of services, including competitive flights and fares. In the least 18 months three airlines set up sizable Dulles hubs (ATW, 11/85). One of them--Presidential Airways--is a new entrant headquartered there. And original Dulles master plan notwithstanding, the new services are primarily short- and medium-haul, not long-haul and international.

Open entry and a booming business community are the principal catalysts for the change. Ironically deregulation initially hurt Dulles. In the recession years 1980-82, airlines could exit from markets freely and did from Dulles.

Things began slowly at first. One breakthrough was American Airlines' decision to operate Dallas-Dulles-National and return, to make up partially for the fact that the perimeter rule prevents American from serving Washington National-DFW nonstop. Northwest Airlines began service to Chicago, something that hadn't existed for years. True to the often sheeplike nature of the business, United and American then decided Northwest had a good idea and started Dulles-Chicago service, too. Northwest left.

Bigger still was the commitment by New York Air, in November 1984, to operate 35 flights out of Dulles within a year. New York Air now says it announced a hub at Dulles publicly before Presidential Airways was created and said it would hub at Dulles. But although the company may have committed itself on paper to Federal Aviation Administration authorities, it was not until July 17, 1985 at a press conference at Dulles that Texas Air Corp. …

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