- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Officials at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are confident it will reopen, but those whose livelihoods are tied to the airport are still uncertain about their futures.

"We expect that we will reopen," said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "The issue is the timetable. We're hopeful that we'll be hearing something in a matter of days."

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Sen. George F. Allen, both Republicans, are among those calling for the return of commercial flights to the airport.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta has said the National Security Council will have the final say, but a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee spokesman said last week the White House, Congress and the regional airports authority will have input in the decision.

Reagan Airport, directly or indirectly responsible for almost 70,000 area jobs, is the only major airport in the nation that remains closed after last Tuesday's terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

Given its proximity to the U.S. government's nerve centers and national landmarks, the airports authority closed it indefinitely.

Yesterday, cars dotted the parking garages, ticket counters stood empty and metal gates covered the entrances of most shops — grim images for the people who depend on a bustling airport for their paychecks.

"I hear on the shuttle buses that people are afraid of losing their jobs," said Paul Buckler, general manager of America!, a closed shop that sells patriotic paraphernalia.

Some workers are actively looking for work elsewhere, he said.

"They are clearly worried about their jobs," Ms. Hamilton said.

Yesterday, US Airways, the airport's largest airline tenant, announced it expects to cut nationwide service and lay off 11,000 employees. US Airways operates 186 daily flights out of Reagan Airport.

Asked who has already taken a hit financially, one taxi dispatcher answered: "Everybody." Her workday, she said, is now about three hours shorter.

A guard working for Argenbright Security said the hours and the money haven't changed at all, "but we're just at a standstill."

At the T.G.I. Friday's restaurant, a small staff of managers served a limited lunch menu to airport employees. The restaurant's hours have shrunk dramatically, serving only from 9 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m.

General manager Matt Springer said the company is trying to redistribute employees to other local branches.

"The servers really depend on their tips," he said. "The cooks need four, five days of work to pay their rent."

Faber News & Gifts is the only newsstand still open, albeit with fewer workers. Employees who aren't needed are still being paid, general manager Jan Vernie said.

"Which is very unusual," said supervisor Jackie Gamboa.

Because authorities haven't yet decided when to reopen the airport, employees "are being told to hang in there until we hear something," Ms. Vernie said.

About 45,000 people typically use the airport each day, according to Virginia-based Washington Airports Task Force (WATF), a nonprofit corporation that promotes aviation services in the region.

Reagan Airport served 15.9 million passengers last year, the WATF estimates.

The group has laid out half a dozen reasons for keeping the airport open. Among them are the impact on the operation of the government and the need to resist "handing terrorism another victory."

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which also operates Washington Dulles International Airport, is discussing with federal authorities ways to improve security measures at Reagan Airport, Ms. Hamilton said.

Air traffic, for instance, would likely be restricted to a southern corridor to keep planes from flying over federal buildings like the White House and Pentagon.

"We are confident that when all the facts are evaluated, the decision will be to return National Airport, like the nation, to business as usual," WATF chairman Stan Harrison said.

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