Neighborhood activists have expressed cautious optimism on new federal regulations that govern the reduction of airplane noise.

The regulations, announced yesterday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner, require airlines to phase out older, noisier planes by the end of 1999. However, airlines that are in 85 percent compliance by that date can ask for a waiver until 2003.

Representatives of communities around Baltimore-Washington International Airport were pleased that a controversial proposal that wouldhave allowed airlines to bypass noise reduction deadlines was removed. But they voiced concern that the transportation secretary can still grant deadline waivers in some circumstances.

"This is pretty good," said Tom Dixon, president of the BWI Neighbors Committee and representative from Harmans. "That is going to put some airlines on the spot. Some communities will be dissatisfied because it isn't happening fast enough, but personally, I like the idea."

But Dennis Stevens, president of the Airport Coordinating Team, a BWI watchdog group, said the phase-in schedule is open to abuse because the FAA can waivethe deadlines leading up to the final goal. He also said he doubts the 2003 deadline will be enforced.

"Laws are only as good as theirinterpretation," he said. "Bet your bottom dollar airlines will be in court telling some judge they can't do it."

Brad Fitch, press secretary to U.S. Representative Tom McMillen, said the waivers were inplace so financially strapped airlines don't go bankrupt while trying to meet the requirements. But, he said, "We will monitor this very closely so the waivers are not abused by the transportation secretary."

Of the airplanes using Baltimore-Washington InternationalAirport, 55 percent are newer, quieter Stage 3 aircraft. Information on individual airlines using the airport was not immediately available.

The set of rules announced yesterday comes after several public hearings across the country. Many groups that support a national noise lawdo not like the current law, saying it undermines local control airports had in regulating noise.

Skinner said yesterday he anticipates lawsuits from some communities who view the noise policy as a roadblock to their efforts.

Only BWI's general aviation runway operatesunder noise restriction regulations. Linda Greene, spokeswoman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said airport officials will not comment until they review the rules.

The regulations give airlinestwo options to reduce the number of noisy Stage 2 planes: retrofit the planes with "hushkits" to quiet the engines or retire the older planes and buy Stage 3 aircraft.

Airlines using hushkits must eliminate 25 percent of their Stage 2 fleets by the end of 1994, 50 percentby the end of 1996 and 75 percent by the end of 1998.

Airlines retiring the older planes must have 55 percent Stage 3 fleets by the end of 1994, 65 percent by the end of 1996 and 75 percent by the end of1998.

Skinner, in a press conference yesterday, said the rules could cost airlines between $880 million to $4 billion. He said the costs will be passed on to ticket buyers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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