THERE IS SOMETHING a little shameful about the way the British and French have been treated in New York ever since it became clear that they intended to bring their new export - the Concorde - to town. The Port Authority has found more reasons than you can imagine to stop them from landing the airplane at Kennedy Airport. The city's politicians have been remarkably careful to duck the real issues raised by the Port Authority's inaction. A nosiy group of citizens has threatened all sorts of retaliation if they plane does begin operations at Kennedy. And the British and French have had to go into federal court to get what New York's officials ought to have had the courage to give them in the first place: permission to get on with the test period that the federal government authorized a year ago.
You would think, from the cries of agony coming out of New York last week, tht the federal judge had done something quite unexpected and, perhaps, even irrational in ordering the Port Authority to let the Concordes land. Yet, all he said was that the Port Authority could not override the decision the Secretary of Transportation made a year ago authorizing 16-month test periods of the plane at Kennedy and Dulles Airports. His ruling was anticipated by almost everyone who had been following the case, except, as it seems, those in New York who have made an enormous cause of stopping this airplane.
The judge's ruling does not deprive local authorities of the power to set standards at their airports. Nor does it mean Concordes are going to be flying in and out of Kennedy Airport dozens of times a day for the next 20 years. It means simply that the tests to which Secretary Coleman said the British and French are entitled will take place. That seems to us to be a reasonable position. The Concorde, after all, is neither the complete environmental disaster it had been made out to be nor the first of a new generation of terribly noisy airplanes. Not many Concordes are going to be built and when - or if - other supersonic airplanes are developed, it is clear they will have to meet far more stringent noise and other pollution standards than can be fairly imposed on the Concorde.
Instead of continuing to complain about Mr. Coleman's decision and putting the onus for enforcing it on the federal courts, New York's public officials ought to begin now - at long last - to make this test period a realistic one. The British and French have contended all along that their airplane will meet the existing noise standards ar Kennedy. If it does, of course, the furor of the last year over landing rights there will look foolish in retrospect. If it doesn't, the British and French, as well as the federal government, will have serious problems. Until the tests are completed, no one can be sure which will be the case.