The testimony today will be about airports, but the real issues are money and prestige.

The opening Senate Commerce Committee hearing over control of Dulles International and National airports will be packed with a who's who of area officials, representatives of the federal government, airline industry executives and noise activists.

In the latest round of a year-long fight over a proposal by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole to turn over operation of the two airports to a regional authority, the stakes are high:

*As the airline industry faces a critical period of shakedown and reorganization, will Dulles or Baltimore-Washington International emerge as the premier hub airport in the region?

*Which state will reap the billions of dollars in economic development that follows airport growth?

*Can the federal government get out of the airport business, which it has tried to do for almost 40 years?

Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, who was that state's transportation secretary in 1972 when the state bought BWI from the city of Baltimore, will line up with his congressional delegation to try to stop the bill. Their fear: that BWI will be left out in the cold in the competition for passengers, as well as for the upscale, high-tech development that occurs around booming airports.

Among other things, the regional authority would enable Dulles to build a $100 million midfield terminal, which federal officials say is desperately needed if Dulles is to make the jump to a first class, heavily used international airport. Maryland officials fear such a move would give Dulles an unfair advantage in the battle to attract more passengers and, ultimately, development.

"All fairness and competition will vanish if this legislation is enacted," Hughes said in a letter to members of the Maryland delegation. He added that the transfer amounted to a "substantial subsidy" for the Virginia airports.

"There's an awful lot of ego and macho involved in this," said one Federal Aviation Administration official. "Maryland officials feel they've got a lot on the line."

The legislation is championed by Virginia congressmen and is supported by the Reagan administration and by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. All are scheduled to testify today.

The congressional battle comes after a public relations war between Dulles and BWI, in which both airports have aggressively lured passengers and airlines.

The result is that the once-empty terminals are now often crowded with passengers. Dulles, 26 miles from Washington, has increased passenger totals about 20 percent in the last three years. Passenger growth at BWI, 35 miles from Washington and nine miles from Baltimore, was 14 percent in 1983, 28 percent in 1984 and 24 percent for the first three months of 1985.

BWI's big coup was persuading Piedmont Airlines in 1983 to make BWI a "hub," or a major connecting point for flights, while Dulles recently got Pan Am to make it a hub for overseas flights.

But the stakes are much higher than airline business. Economic development experts from both states say the two airports have been the key to luring high-tech firms and other commercial industry to Northern Virginia and to Anne Arundel County.

"The airport is probably the greatest thing around in terms of being an incentive for development. I can't think of a single business that didn't cite the nearness of the airport as one of the major reasons for locating here," said Lissa Brown of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Office.

"Having a good airport is like having a profitable sports team. It's a real asset to an area," said David Chapin, director of policy for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

"I'm sympathetic with those people in Maryland. They've got a good thing going and they don't want anybody to mess it up. But we're not going to mess it up," said former Virginia governor Linwood Holton, appointed by Secretary Dole to head the 15-member Holton Commission that recommended the transfer after a year-long study.

Holton and other officials believe that future development will be sufficient to support BWI, Dulles and National. "This region is growing in a way that all three of these airports is going to benefit," said Tom Morr, president of the Washington Dulles Task Force, a private organization formed to promote Dulles.

Federal and Virginia officials also maintain that the Maryland and Virginia airports serve two separate, noncompeting markets. While a majority of the passengers using Dulles and National live in the Washington metropolitan area, most of those using BWI come from Baltimore and other parts of Maryland, they say.

But BWI is not ready to relinquish the prestigious and growing Washington market to the Northern Virginia airports. Maryland officials intentionally changed the name from Friendship Airport to Baltimore-Washington International in 1972 and adopted a tilted Capitol dome as its logo, in an attempt to win more of the Washington market. BWI officials fear, in particular, that a booming Dulles would draw Montgomery and Prince George's County passengers from BWI.

Maryland officials say what really irks them is that they had to spend millions to build BWI into a modern airport, while Virginia will be getting Dulles and National at bargain prices. Though the legislation actually transfers the airports to a regional authority, not to Virginia, Maryland officials say the authority is heavily stacked in Virginia's favor.

"It took us years of hard work. They're getting it handed to them on a silver platter," said Maryland Transportation Secretary William Hellmann. "We don't mind competing. We just say the competition should be fair. This is a federal giveaway."

Hellmann said the prospect is particularly alarming to Maryland because the deal includes both Dulles, which breaks even, and National, which makes a profit of about $15 million annually. BWI had a profit of $9 million last year.

"National gives them an incredible advantage," said Hellmann. "It's a gold mine."

Under the legislation, Dulles and National would be transferred to an independent authority created by a pact between Virginia and the District. Virginia has approved the pact, and Barry has said he expects support from the D.C. City Council.

The $47 million price tag for the two airports has outraged Maryland officials. Maryland has already spent $200 million on BWI -- including the $36 million the state spent to buy it.

Maryland got only 3,300 acres, while Dulles and National cover about 11,000 acres. Hellmann says that the new authority could lease a substantial amount of land at Dulles, then use the money to lure airlines and passengers away from BWI, beginning a cycle that would then attract more development.

Maryland transportation officials cite the Grace Commission's recommendation that the federal government sell the airports for $341 million.

But Holton countered that the Dulles and National airport properties might indeed be worth that much if they could be developed for any purpose. Because the properties must be used for "airport purposes" under the bill, the value is much less, Holton said.

The authority would float bonds to pay for costly improvements, such as a new midfield terminal at Dulles and new parking and road facilities at National, which Congress has refused to fund. Maryland officials fear the improvements could give Dulles a competitive edge.

The authority would be governed by an independent board with five appointees from Virginia, three from the District, two from Maryland and one presidential appointee. BWI director Ted Mathison called the board a "stacked deck," but Virginia officials said that the Maryland representation is roughly equal to the percentage of Maryland passengers.

Maryland congressmen say they do not expect the legislation to pass during this session of Congress. One Maryland congressional source said he expects Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who is opposed to the legislation, to stall the measure in the Senate Commerce Committee.

However, Sen. Paul S. Trible (R-Va.) said he believes the committee will vote on the bill in July. Holton said the Reagan administration has garnered the support of all nine of the committee Republicans and two of the eight Democrats have said they will vote for the bill. He thus expects little problem in getting Senate committee approval.

Maryland congressmen and aides say privately they are confident they can stall the measure. They point to the failures of numerous past attempts to transfer federal control of the airports, and add that Hughes has made blocking the legislation one of the state's priorities.

One federal transportation official said the strenuous opposition of the Hughes administration is a bit ironic to him, because it stems from a lack of appreciation of BWI's overwhelming success. "They're afraid nobody wants to go to BWI," he said of Maryland officials. "They're just wrong. They're running a very successful airport."