ONE THING YOU can say for the Senate is that it doesn't mind having noisy "little" airplanes around "little" airports. Last May, it passed a bill that would exempt most two- and three-engine planes from existing FAA noise limitations. A few days ago, after noticing that similar legislation appears to be bottled up in the House committee system, the Senate passed the bill again -- this time in a way designed to bypass those House committees.
It was slick parliamentary move, designed by Sen. Howard Cannon. The Senate simply substituted the text of its pro-noise bill for that of a House-passed airport development bill and demanded a conference to resolve the "differences."
The Senate should not be allowed to get away with it. Those "little" airplanes it wants to exempt include most of the planes that fly in and out of such "little" airports as Washington National, New York's LaGuardia and Philadelphia International. The Senate bill would simply prolong the period during which those who are unfortunate enough to live near airports must endure more noise than modern technology requires them to.
Last year the airlines mounted a whopping effort to get congressional approval of a plan to use federal tax money to help them reequip their planes to meet the FAA's regulations (which become fully effective in 1985). That bill almost passed as part of a package with the bill that deregulated the airline industry. When it didn't, help for the airlines was redesigned in the form of this year's innocuous-sounding provision that waives the reequipment requirement for any plane that fails the FAA's tests by no more than five decibels.
While last year's argument concerned who should pay the costs of reducing airplane noise, this year's argument concerns the noise standards themselves. No one ever thought that noise reduction would be free or even cheap, and you can argue about who should pay for it -- airline stockholders, passengers or the general public. But as of now, the country is not in such bad economic shape that it should stop trying to reduce the clatter and racket of planes overhead. The fact that it is easier and cheaper -- i.e., more convenient -- not to, is not enough.