- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

We here in Washington are trying just as people in New York and elsewhere are trying to get back to leading a relatively normal life in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. But federal officials are making this task much harder than necessary by their continuing refusal to reopen Reagan National Airport.

A final decision on whether it will remain closed or will reopen with new safety rules hasn't been made, according to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. And, he recently told the Senate, no timetable has been set on when to expect such a decision.

So far, the loudest argument we've heard in favor of reopening Reagan National is financial. And it's true that many people some 10,000, to be exact depend on the jobs they hold at the airport to make a living. From baggage handlers and limousine drivers to food servers and ticket issuers, they form a vital link in the region's economy, which gets a $5 billion boost from Reagan National. This is no time to leave them in a holding pattern.

But the financial impact of shuttering Reagan National, while certainly an important factor to weigh in any final decision, isn't enough (by itself) to make the case for its reopening. If it was truly the security risk its critics say it is, it would need to remain closed no matter how many people it employs.

But it doesn't, because the case against reopening Reagan National can't withstand scrutiny.

Those who favor a permanent shutdown make much of the fact that Reagan National is located so close to the U.S. Capitol and other Washington landmarks. But if this feature makes it attractive to prospective terrorists, you would expect the airport to have been used as a point of departure for the Sept. 11 attackers.

Instead, they chose a flight out of Newark International in Newark, N.J., to make an apparently aborted attack on either the White House or the Capitol.

To strike the Pentagon, they selected a flight out of Dulles International in Northern Virginia.

I don't mean to suggest that terrorists couldn't use Reagan National. But it hasn't been shown to be more of a security risk than many other airports, so why single it out?

In fact, Dulles appears to be more of a security risk, but no one says we should shut it down. And with good reason: If proximity to a major city is the deciding factor for figuring out which airports to close, we might as well get padlocks ready for Boston's Logan, Chicago's Midway, San Francisco International, Los Angeles International and a host of other airports that are located only a few seconds flight away from numerous high-profile landmarks.

The critics may reply that none of those landmarks can rival the White House and the Capitol in terms of national importance. Granted, but that's not an argument for shutting down Reagan National permanently, but for making it the most secure airport in America.

We can start by putting a ticket premium on each departing flight to pay for an armed marshal who can sit in the front row of every flight. That seat can be located behind a cockpit door that we make more secure than a bank vault door one that is opened to no one, without exception, once a flight has begun.

We also can get Reagan National back to being the facility it was before federal lawmakers began meddling with it. What was supposed to be a short- and midhaul airport grew to include coast-to-coast service. Remember, the terrorists chose cross-country flights for a reason: They were loaded with tons of fuel. Shorter flights generally carry far less.

There are many other steps we can take, and no one who is clamoring for Reagan National to be reopened would suggest skimping on security. Far from it; take all necessary precautions. But don't leave this vital airport closed for good, because as others such as Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore have pointed out this essentially would hand our enemies yet another victory.

They've already destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. Let's not give them Reagan National, too.

Edwin Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

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