- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Local leaders, citing a need to strike a balance between security and the region's economy, stepped up political pressure yesterday to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
At an unscheduled meeting in a Senate office, members of Congress and area business leaders called on Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey, among others, to make a decision soon.
"We can't let the hijackers do more damage than what they did Tuesday by crippling our economy," Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat whose Virginia district includes the airport, said of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.
Reagan Airport is the only major airport in the nation that remains closed after the attacks, in which jetliners were hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
The airport's proximity to the U.S. government's seat of power poses security risks, and opposition to reopening is coming from the Defense Department.
"Congress does not want this closed," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, who added that the future of Reagan Airport "should not just be a national-security decision."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, told reporters after a bipartisan meeting of congressional leaders and airline executives on Capitol Hill that "there is a consensus that at some point [Reagan Airport] ought to be reopened."
Mr. Daschle said the airlines, the airports and the FAA are all reviewing security plans, and as soon as it is safe, "there is every expectation" flights will resume.
Many lawmakers also expressed concern that keeping Reagan Airport shut sends the wrong message about the country's resolve.
"We shouldn't concede to terrorism," Sen. George F. Allen said at a news conference earlier in the day outside the Pentagon, which also was attended by fellow Republicans Sen. John W. Warner and Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
They acknowledged that airport security will need to be revamped, and asked residents to be patient.
"We're not at the point where we can say to the American public that we're safe," Mr. Warner said. "[The airports] location is of great concern to us all. And, hopefully, we can reopen it soon. I don't want terrorists to get a square inch of our territory."
Mr. Gilmore agreed.
"I'm certainly an advocate for it reopening again or any other plan that would get this airport or its functions back up and running again at the earliest moment."
Mrs. Garvey said she would present the lawmakers' concerns at a meeting last night with representatives from the National Security Council and the Defense and Transportation departments.
"People are hungry for a decision," Mrs. Garvey said, though she could not say when Reagan Airport would reopen. Government officials are looking at a "phased-in approach" to starting up flights there, she said.
Vital security concerns need to be addressed before that could happen, she said, without giving specifics.
In addition to having armed U.S. marshals on board commercial planes, lawmakers have suggested that baggage handlers and security guards be federalized across the country, using Reagan Airport as a model. Limiting access to the cockpit, improving screening of passengers, and providing more money for security equipment are among other proposals to improve security.
The region's airports authority is confident, in talking with federal authorities, that Reagan Airport can reopen once security changes are made.
Meanwhile, John M. Derrick Jr., chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, sent a letter to President Bush yesterday stating that "a re-opened Reagan National signals that America's capital is back to business."
"We must accept security and operational changes at Reagan Washington National and other airports across the nation. At the same time, we must not hand the terrorists another win by the prolonged shutdown of the gateway to America's capital," Mr. Derrick stated.
"We must not allow Reagan National to become a monument to terrorism on the shores of the Potomac River."
Reagan Airport, one of the most convenient of any major city, is used by 45,000 travelers a day. It is directly or indirectly responsible for almost 70,000 jobs.
The impact on the local hotel industry alone is staggering: There are 6,000 hotel rooms in the vicinity of the airport and 10,000 in all of Arlington County.
"We need to make sure that those small businesses, restaurants, hotels and motels can get back to normal as soon as possible," Mr. Allen said.
US Airways, the airport's major airline tenant, has already announced it is laying off 11,000 employees and cutting national service. The longer the airport remains closed, the harder it will be for the company to stay in business, analysts say.
"The airport's a significant component of the fuel that keeps the region going," said Adam Wasserman, director of economic development for Arlington County.
Ellen Sorokin and John Godfrey contributed to this report.

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