New rules proposed for operating National Airport were criticized by several Washington area civic groups last night as offering insignificant or token improvements that would do little to relieve jet airplane noise and traffic problems.

Most speakers at the first of three public hearings on the Federal Aviation Administration's plans for National's future called on the agency to cut back jet flights there by 50 percent rather than the 20 percent cutback by 1990 the FAA has suggested.

The FAA also is proposing a strict curfew on night jet flights and fewer early evening flights. Those proposals won applause from the crowd of about 125 persons at the Marriott Key Bridge Motel in Rosslyn.

The audience strongly opposed the FAA proposal to allow National to continue growing, up to 18 million passengers a year. Last year it handled 15 million.

"National is an anachronism . . . a small 1930s airport built for propeller aircraft . . . the only airport in the world in the middle of a major city," said William T. Moran, who lives south of Oxon Hill along the airport's flight path.

"And now the FAA is proposing to let it grow. Nowhere in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) does the FAA study [the possibility of] reducing traffic at National by 50 percent as proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of governments and many civic groups."

U.S. Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) told the hearing, "It doesn't make any sense at all to continue packing 'em in and packing 'em out . . . at an overcrowded and outdated" airport when two modern airports have been built nearby -- Dulles and Baltimore-Washington -- specifically to replace National.

Fisher urged the agency to lower its proposed 18 million "cap" on passengers, reduce the number of scheduled flights even further and allow no flights 650 miles beyond Washington. The FAA has proposed allowing flights up to 1,000 miles from Washington.

The FAA hearing began with an irate Old Town Alexandria resident, Lewis Small, playing a tape recording of jet noise he made on his patio Wednesday night. "What you are proposing is rather insignificant for people who are in direct contact" with National's 600 to 1,000 daily airplane flights, Small said.

One Arlington resident, Sigurd Rasmussen, told the hearing, "for 14 years residents have been fighting jets at National. We had over 10,000 signatures in 1967, the year after the jets were allowed at the airport. But instead of decreasing the number of jets the FAA has made National into one of the busiest airports in the world."

Rasmussen is vice president of Virginians for Dulles, the civic group that took the FAA to court two years ago and forced the present environmental review and public hearings.

The FAA will hold two more hearings on National, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Dulles Marriott and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, at the Key Bridge Marriott.