WERE SILENCE NOT the emotionally charged

and elusive issue at National Airport for some 16 years now, we might shout it to the rooftops: yesterday--in the quietest legislative way, Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis won a big victory for a rational air traffic and noise control policy for those runways along the Potomac. The administration's airport plan moved unscathed through Capitol Hill--home of the famed 535th Airborne Wing of Congressional Fighters, whose mission has been to defend National Airport against all attacks on limitless plane service to their districts and back.

The victory was quiet because there was no vote on the administration's plan; and there was no vote because Mr. Lewis, along with members of Congress from this area, successfully negotiated away a damaging amendment first approved by the House, then deleted by the Senate and--here's the break--kept out for good during yesterday's final consideration of the transportation appropriations bill.

Thanks to intense and sensitive negotiating by Secretary Lewis, even sponsors of the House amendment saw no further reason to press their attempt to legislate a prohibition on any reductions in flights at National below the level of July 31 of this year. Mr. Lewis and representatives of airlines that originally had condemned his policy reached an accommodation, a compromise providing for flight reductions to be distributed among the airlines. Schedules for limiting decibel levels for aircraft engines also will be altered to recognize technical complications; and similarly, deadlines for forcing the use of a new generation of quieter jets are to be reviewed.

No, don't expect to hear a pin drop at the Watergate, because residents in the path of the flights will still hear the roar of those engines more than they care to. But the administration's effort represents a compromise more acceptable to more disparate groups than any other set of plans--and it did fly through Congress to a happy landing.