The House Aviation Subcommittee and the Carter administration are struggling over a subcommittee bill that would extend by as much as seven years a deadline for U.S. airlines to muffle or replace their noisy jetliners.
Under a regulation dtopted in the last months of the Ford adminstration, U.S. airlines have until 1983 to muffle loud planes they want to keep and until 1985 to replace those they want to get rid of. That regulation has received strong support from new Transporation Secretary Brock Adams.
But the bill from the House Public Works subcommittee headed by Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Calif.) would extend both deadlines until 1990 for the vast majority of domestic airplanes - mostly smaller two-and three-engine McDonnell Douglas DC9s and Boeing 707s.
The airline industry has argued vigorously that there is little to be gained by muffling DC9s and 707s. The difference between a single flight of a muffled and unmuffled jet, they say, is about 4 deciberls - or just approaching the difference the human ear can detect.
Anderson said through a spokesman that, "If on a single event (flight) you cannot tell the differnece on a retrofitted (muffled) or unretrofitted DC 9. I'm not convinced that you could tell a total difference on 20 flights."
But the Department of Transportation has argued through two administrations now that a total muffling program for two and three-engine jets and a replacement program for older four-engine planes would cut in half the 6 million to 7 million people "significantly annoyed" by jetliner noise.
"If this bill goes through," a Transportation official said, "it means that 77 per cent of the U.S. airports will get no noise relief before 1990." That is because those airports - mostly in smaller cities - are served exclusively by two - and three-engine jets. Two overworked airports - Washington National and New York's LaGuardia - are also in that category, however.
The central debate on the issue has always been how to pay for muffling or replacing. The total cost to the U.S. airlines has been estimated at between $5.8 billion and $7.9 billion.
The Anderson subcommittee bill as presently drafted would require each airline to impose a 2 per cent surcharge on fares. The money could be used in various ways to either replace or modify planes.
At the present time almost 80 per cent of the U.S. jet fleet violates noise standards that were set in 1969. However, existing planes were exempted from the standard when it was passed. Ironically, the newest, biggest jumbo jets - the Boeing 747s, Lockheed L-1011s and McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s - are the quietest planes being built.
The Airport Operators Council International, which represents airports across the country, is also lobbying along with DOT against any extension. Over the past five years, airport operators have paid out more than $25 million in legal judgements because they - not the airlines or the aircraft manufacturers - have been held liable by the Supreme Court for aviation noise suits.
In a letter to the airport operators, Secretary Adams promised that "we do not intend to permit any such exemptions or extensions . . ."
Anderson said through a spokesman that extension of the deadline would give the industry time to develop a quiet replacement aircraft for the noisy two and three-engine planes. "There is no good replacement at the present," he said.