WHAT DO NOISY airplanes over the Potomac River have in common with cheap airfares in and out of Dallas? Not much. But both are caught up in a wrangle between the Senate and House over what started out as a routine airport development bill. The Senate wants to use the bill as a vehicle for easing the noise-abatement standards that go into effect in 1983 for two- and three-engine jets of the kind that frequent National Airport. The House wants to use the same bill to drive all interstate air service, most notably Southwest Airlines' cheap flights, out of Love Field in Dallas.
Conferees of the two houses have gone through five meetings without resolving these two matters. Yet there is a simple solution: forget both of them -- they are both bad ideas.
The Senate's noise proposal would waive the aircraft noise standards for planes that almost comply, but don't quite. According to both the Senate and the airline industry, the difference between the noise made by the current planes and the noise they will make after they have been adapted to meet the new standards will be "imperceptible."
There is an argument about that, of course, especially when you talk about the cumulative impact of noise made by dozens of airplanes. But the issue is not whether one plane is only slightly less noisy than another. It is whether Congress is going to back off a serious effort to reduce the noise around airports because the standard selected is inconvenient and expensive for the owners of particular airplanes.
The Love Field controversy is a remarkable bit of airline re-regulation engineered by House Majority Leader James Wright. It would bar interstate flights from Love Field and force them to the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport, which is closer to Fort Worth. One catch is that Rep. Wright represents Fort Worth. The other is that the regional airport's landing charges and other fees are enough higher than those at Love Field to force the airline involved, Southwest, to raise its fares -- and bring them closer to those now charged by the big airlines. The move would help Fort Worth and the big airlines at the expense of Dallas and its residents, who are flying more cheaply now.
That's the kind of local controversy and the kind of competition between airlines that hardly deserve congressional attention. If Congress was serious about de-regulating the airlines last year, it should let local governments and the free market settle disputes like this one.