FOR 17 MONTHS NOW, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has succeeded in thwarting efforts by the British and French governments to fly the Concorde in and out of Kennedy International Airport on a trial basis. Its latest success is in persuading the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York to delay the enforcement of a lower court's order that directed it to let the owners of the airplane begin test operations. This success was expected - the delay is for the purpose of letting the appellate court hear arguments on the validity of that order - but we hope it is short-lived. The Port Authority has been able to spin out this controversy long enough.
In case you've forgotten, it was early in 1976 that then Secretary of Transportation William Coleman ruled that the Concorde should be given a chance at two American airports to demonstrate that it can operate within acceptable environmental standards. The test at one of those airports, Dulles, began soon after that. But a Kennedy Airport, the Port Authority has postponed the test period through inaction and delay.
When its dilatory tactics were challenged in court last spring, federal Judge Milton Pollack upheld federal jurisdiction over the matter and ruled, accordingly, that the Port Authority did not have the power to bar the Concorde in the face of Secretary Coleman's decision; he was overruled on that point by the appellate court. This time, with the rights of the Port Authority no longer in question, Judge Pollack has ruled that the Port Authority has abused its power by the way it has handled the case. His opinion seems to us to be so persuasive that the Court of Appeals ought to be able to dispose of the appeal of his order quickly.
The Port Authority has shabbily treated the two foreign governments that built the Concorde. It has refused to determine that operations of their airplane violate existing noise standards - which as a practical matter it doesn't enforce against some aircraft now in service, anyway - and it has refused to let them demonstrate that the plane can meet those standards. It has also refused to set new standards for supersonic aircraft, pleading that it needs more time to make more studies. But it has taken no action to make those studies, and it has given every indication that it is doesn't really intend to make them.
In other words, the Port Authority has acted as a government might act in a nation where power is total and law means nothing. Its members don't want the Concorde to land at Kennedy, and they are willing to disgard both the law and the facts to enforce their desires. That may be good politics - most New York politicians seem to think that it is - but it is bad government, and particularly bad for the orderly conduct of foreign relations. It is denying to the Concorde and its owners, who are, after all, two major foreign allies, the essence of what American government ought to be all about fairness and respect for law.