THE CONTINUING REFUSAL of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to face its responsibilities in the matter of the Concorde has become a national embarrassment. By voting this week to continue the "temporary" ban against operations tof the Concorde at Kennedy Airport while more "studies" are conducted, the Port Authority's members have abused their power and denied fair treatment to two of this nation's oldest allies. They have done it, so far as we can tell, to shift to the courts the repercussions of a decision that ought to be made by someone other than judges.
The issue, at this point, is not whether the Concorde should be allowed to operate out of Kennedy Airport. It is whether the Concorde's owners, the British and French governments, will be given a chance to meet that airport's noise standards. The Port Authority won't say that the Concorde is too noisy to meet the standards. It won't say that it isn't too noisy. It won't permit tests of the airplane to determine how noisy it really is. And it won't say anything about the situation at all except that it isn't going to decide anything of substance.
The Port Authority's position is that it has consistently enforced its noise standards down through the years. But when jet airplanes were first introduced, the Port Authority tested them and gave their owners a chance to modify the planes and the operating procedures so that they could meet the standards. It refuses to do that for the Concorde. Beyond that, the federal government claims that the noise standards the Port Authority says it has are not being enforced against other airplanes. The Justice Department told the courts a couple of months ago that "subsonic aircraft regularly violate the so-called 112 PNdB limit without being denied future access to JFK or other sanctions."
We can understand the motivation that has led the Port Authority to stall for 16 months on the application of the two foreign governments for landing rights. It arises out of political fear. If the Concorde begins to operate out of that airport, the Port Authority may have on its hands a widespread public demonstration in protest as well as serious legal and political repercussions. If it refuses to let the plane land, it will have affronted the federal government, not to mention the British and French, and may have triggered serious trade reprisals or other internaional repercussions.
So, the Port Authority's members have ducked. As a result, the matter will go back into the courts on a claim that it is deliberately discriminating against the Concorde. That will have the effect of shifting to the courts not only the responsibility for a fair decision but the criticism that will inevitably flow from it. Fortunately for the country - because decisions do have to be made - courts do not often duck. Nevertheless, they ought not to be forced to decide matters just because other officials are afraid of the possible repercussions. The failure of the Port Authority to do its duty in this case ia a classic example of a significant and unwelcome development. Nationwide, judges are being called on by elected and appointed officials to wield more and more control over daily life in this country - control that the courts by their nature are not well equipped to exercise. And the elected and appointed officials who are supposed to be exercising this power are doing so less and less.