The chief of the Federal Aviation Administration called yesterday for a federal law to reduce airport noise throughout the nation by requiring the gradual introduction of quieter aircraft.
FAA Administrator Allan McArtor said the agency is drafting legislation to establish a "national noise policy" that would supersede local restrictions on the type of airplanes allowed into an airport, a long-debated and politically controversial idea.
The law would prevent the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority from establishing rules, such as those made by airport operators in Boston, that pressure the airlines to use the newest, quietest aircraft, labeled "Stage 3" aircraft by the FAA's complex formula.
The authority, which operates National and Dulles International airports, has come under heavy pressure by local residents to reduce noise and has joined with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in studying how other cities have coped with the problem.
McArtor said a national policy is needed to prevent the inconsistencies that arise from a variety of local rules, which create havoc for airlines planning their airplane purchases.
"We don't want a patchwork quilt across the national airspace," McArtor said during a morning meeting with reporters. "The value of a 727 depends on how long it will be able to fly," said McArtor, who was a senior vice president of Federal Express before becoming FAA chief this year.
A major unresolved issue in establishing a federal law is liability, McArtor said. Federal preemption could make the federal government liable for damages in noise suits.
The law, to be drafted by April 15, would establish a nationwide schedule for the gradual retirement of the older, louder "Stage 2" aircraft, and the gradual replacement with Stage 3 airplanes, he said.
Stage 2 aircraft include the Boeing 727. Stage 3 aircraft include the Boeing 757, and the McDonnell Douglas MD80.
McArtor said the law would not preempt local noise abatement policies, such as rules governing approach or takeoff paths. For example, the law would not affect rules requiring airplanes to fly over the Potomac River when approaching National Airport.
Many details have yet to be worked out, McArtor said. The FAA staff has not determined whether the law would limit a local authority's powers to restrict aircraft types to certain hours, which serve as virtual curfews.
At National, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., aircraft generally are not allowed to land or take off unless they operate under certain decibel levels. Two Stage 3 commercial jets meet those limits, the B-757 and MD80. The increased use of these aircraft during the restricted hours recently has triggered rising complaints from local residents.
The law also would include some "positive incentive," possibly federal funding, to help local airport authorities buy houses in neighborhoods around the airports that are most affected by noise, McArtor said. The Maryland State Aviation Administration is offering to buy some houses in the area around Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The federal government in 1976 established regulations requiring the gradual phase-out of Stage 1 aircraft, which included the B-707 and DC-8.
However, those rules did not preempt local powers to restrict aircraft. The airline industry has pushed for federal preemption, but the issue has divided the Reagan administration between pro-business advocates and opponents of federal interference in local affairs, sources familiar with the debate said yesterday.