The Carter administration is in the final stages of deciding whether there is a future for the Concorde supersonic jet transport at U.S. airports as the Anglo-French plane's 16-month test period at Dulles International Airport nears completion.
According to administration sources familiar with the discussions, an options paper classified secret is being circulated among various agencies, including the Department of Transportation, its Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"After you scrape off all the words there are really only three options," a knowledgeable sources said. "Let the Concorde in; keep the Concorde out, or let the Concorde in with restrictions."
On Sept. 24, the Concorde will complete 16 months of regularly scheduled passenger flights between London and Paris and Washington. That test period, authorized by the Ford administration, was to be used to measure the environmental effects of Concorde operations and use the results to make a long-term decision about the plane.
A similar test was also authorized for Kennedy International Airport in New York City, but flights there have never started because of court challenges. Dulles Airport here is owned by the federal government, and therefore the local airport operator's approval for Concorde operations was not needed.
According to sources, the government will make its final decision on Concorde by Sept. 24 in conjunction with publishing the first U.S. standards setting noise limits for supersonic aircraft.Such a standard could exempt the Concorde and apply only to future SSTs, or could be set high enough to permit the noisy Concorde to operate, at least for a limited number of years.
Such procedures would open U.S. airports other than Dulles and Kennedy to Concorde operations, assuming no local rule prohibits such flights.
In an environmental impact statement on possible supersonic noise rules the FAA published in April, 10 cities in addition to New York and Washington were listed as possible sites for Concorde flights. Included were Anchorage, Boston, Dallas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.
Dallas has specifically expressed interest in having Concorde operations.
The state-owned airlines of British Airways and Air France are the only carriers operating Concordes. They own nine planes and are flying 13 round trips a week to Washington. There is also British Airways service between London and Bahrain and Air France service between Paris and Caracas and Rio de Janeiro.
Another five Concordes have been built but are unsold. Iran Air has options on two of them, but is not interested until landings in New York are possible.
The possibility of Concorde service to American cities other than New York is something that the British, in particular, would welcome. They have long held the view that if other American cities had Concorde service, transatlantic passengers would be diverted from New York and economic pressures would build to force New York to accept the plane.
Further, if a good Pacific route linking a major West Coast city with, say, Hong Kong, could be developed, some Concorde customers could be found in the Far East.
As a practical matter, however, it is unlikely there would ever be more than 20 operating Concordes, according to British aviation sources. The production lines in both Britain and France have all but closed. In addition to the five unsold airplanes, there are sufficient parts to fabricate another six.
It is against that international background that the Carter administration is debating Concorde's future here. If it bans the Concorde there will be an international flap; if it permits it in the context of a supersonic noise rule there will be a U.S. flap.
One of the early defenses of Concorde was that 80 per cent of U.S. jetliners violated existing noise standards too. A new rule, however, orders those planes to be in compliance by 1985. Should the 1985 rule also be applied to the Concorde?
The EPA is on record as opposing any Concorde flights to the United States. It has also been pushing for a supersonic noise rule that would exclude the Concorde.
A supersonic noise rule, first ordered by Congress in 1969 and never promulgated by the FAA has to come soon because the FAA is under court order to provide one.
After interagency consulation in coming days, the Department of Transportation schedule calls for joint release of a noise rule, a revised environmental impactstatements and a Concorde decision, according to sources.