The Concorde supersonic jet transport has won a few friends among its neighbors near Dulles International Airport since it started flying there one year ago today, but the people who live closest to the airport are not as friendly as those who live farther out.
That is what it says in a report the Federal Aviation Administration handed out during a press conference at Dulles yesterday. According to the two-page preliminary report of a public opinion survey, 50.3 per cent of the people polled around the Dulles area "approved strongly" or "approve somewhat" of Concorde service to the U.S.
Those results were obtained in December, seven months after the start of Concorde flights to the U.S. Before Concorde began regular service, 45.7 per cent of the people interviewed approved of the Concorde flights.
The surveys were part of the 16-month testing program ordered by former Transportation Secretary William T. Coleman Jr. British Airways and Air France, he said, could fly Concordes between Europe and United States for 16 months, during which time noise would be measured, people would be interviewed, and other environmental tests would be made. A permanent decision about Concorde then could be reached.
Since the transportation department also owns Dulles, landing rights there were automatic. But Concorde is still fighting to gain access to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. An appellate court hearing is scheduled today in New York on that question.
The New York Port Authority, which operates Kennedy, has said that it will not permit Concorde to land there until it studies results from operations at Dulles. A federal judge has overruled the Port Authority; it is that judge's finding that is the subject of today's hearing.
At Dulles, according to the FAA-commissioned survey released yesterday, only 26.2 per cent of the people interviewed "disapprove somewhat" or "disapprove strongly" of Concorde operations. Another 23.1 per cent had no opinion.
The level of disapproval is a good deal higher in communities adjacent to Dulles or under Concorde's flight path. According to the survey, 39.5 per cent of those who live in Leesburg disapprove, as do 36.2 of those who live in Sterling, Herndon and Reston and 35.8 per cent of those who live in Chantilly.
The report said that 55 per cent of the people interviewed actually had heard the Concorde. Of that number, 10.6 per ent changed their minds about the plane after they heard it: 4.8 per cent changed in favor of the plane, and 5.8 per cent disapproved.
During the first 12 months of flights, the Concorde has proved to be about as noisy as it was predicted to be by FAA studies: twice as loud on take off as the oldest, loudest U.S. four-engine jets and about the same on landings.
An elaborate monitoring system has been set up at Dulles to measure the noise of Concorde flights. When the first plane flew last year, technicians were standing with hand-held monitors in the middle of plowed fields to take their readings.
Now, most of a permanent, unmanned monitoring system is in place, and the monitors all feed a bank of computers and flashing lights in the basement of the Dulles control Tower.
Last year, television cameramen focused on the plane and the meter holders. Yesterday, they focused on a digital readout in the computer room as a British Airways Concorde thundered into Dulles at bit more loudly than usual.
Whatever the opinion of those who live around it, the Concorde has now carried about 40,000 people across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. British Airways said it is selling 85 per cent of the seats it offers, Air France 67 per cent. Both airlines are losing money on the plane because, they say, it is not in the air enough. Air France announced in Paris yesterday that it lost $44 million on overall Concorde operations in the past year; British Airways losses have been estimated at between $14 million and $15 million.
The plane continues to be a crowd attraction. At least 100 people gathered on the observation deck at Dulles yesterday at 1 p.m. as the Air France Concorde took off for Paris.