A bill passed by Congress last week that puts the Federal Aviation Administration in charge of regulating noise around airports has left BWI officials and members of some community groups uneasy.
The bill was tacked on to the budget package passed last weekend and came after weeks of wrangling between the House and Senate aviation subcommittees. The House committee wanted to wait until next year before moving forward on a bill, but the Senate came up with a version on its own.
The final version of the bill alleviates fear that the FAA would have to approve all local agreements between community groups and airports on noise restrictions. The bill says all agreements finalized before Oct. 1, 1990, will not be subject to review -- meaning that agreements worked out between BWI and local groups are safe.
BWI officials, however, say the bill is still too restrictive.
The bill sets a schedule for the phased elimination of Stage 2 aircraft, which are generally older and noisier than Stage 3 planes, the only type now being built. It mandates that airlines may not add any new Stage 2 plane unless it has already been ordered, and that Stage 2 planes may not constitute more than 15 percent of an airline's fleet after July 1, 1999.
Airlines could then have until 2003 to eliminate all Stage 2 aircraft.
Ted Mathison, administrator for the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates BWI, said he is glad Congress finally set a deadline, but is concerned with the 15 percent rule. He said the bill could affect his plan to lower noise levels considerably by 1993.
The bill also requires that any airport restriction on Stage 3 aircraft must be approved by Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner. Stage 2 restrictions imposed by airports must go through a public review process, but do not need approval by the FAA.
BWI is trying to reduce noise levels by encouraging airlines to use Stage 3 planes but has said it may need to implement restrictions, such as banning nighttime flights, if its goal cannot be met by 1993.
"That might include Stage 3 aircraft," Mathison said, "and we would have to go through a very onerous process. We should be jumping for joy, but we're not. It's a difficult balancing act. How do you impose restrictions on air carriers without driving traffic away? This bill takes our flexibility away."
Tom Dixon, president of the BWI Neighbors Committee, a group of area community groups and airport officials, said he supports the bill. He said he is not concerned that the FAA is taking over noise issues, adding it may encourage community associations at other airports.
"BWI has nothing to worry about," he said.
But Dennis Stevens, president of the Airport Coordinating Team, a BWI watchdog group, called the bill "pro-aviation," and predicted it will end up in court. "This is not good legislation. It does not take local groups into consideration. I hope someone challenges it and I hope it gets thrown out."
Stevens also said that the schedule for the elimination of Stage 2 planes should be accelerated.