THOUGH THE BATTLE of Concorde has ended in defeat for its opponents, it foreshadows a significant victory in the war against airport noise - for we doubt that any aircraft manufacturer will be eager to gamble and struggle the way the British and French have had to in this country. Besides, the approval announced by Transportation Secretary Brock Adams isn't exactly a supersonic red carpet for every booming aircraft of the future. On the contrary, it is restricted to the 16 Concordes that either have been built or are under construction. Moreover, the ruling forbids Concorde from flying at supersonic speeds and thus creating supersonic booms over any part of the nation; and a curfew continues on Concorde flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The action does open 11 more airports to Concorde, which has been flying a total of 17 round trips a week to Kennedy Airport and six round trips to Dulles. But Mr. Adams notes that these local airports could, if they wished, adopt "reasonable nondiscriminatory" noise rules that would keep out the Concorde. That seems fair enough at this point, especially since the real setback to anti-noise efforts occurred long before the Concorde arrived; it happened when jets were introduced and when airport managers failed to enforce their noise standards against domestic planes. As we've mentioned before, the greatest airport noise-pollution problem in greater Washington has come from the jets at National Airport - not the Concorde at Dulles. Fairfax County Supervisor Martha V. Pennino, who was one of the leading opponents of Concorde, was candid on this point: "In all honesty," she said upon hearing of the federal ruling Tuesday, "since the plane has been flying in and out of Dulles, I've only had two complaints." That's been more than two years.
So any Concordes of the future at least will have to meet noise standards that were set for subsonic planes in 1969. They should be held to the stricter standards that were set for subsonic planes in 1975, but there's still time to get back to that. For now, at least, the Concorde has permission to fly, which is by no means a guarantee of financial success; so far, it's been a money-loser, which in the long run may be the most effective noise curb of all.