- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta yesterday said Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will reopen, with an official announcement likely next week from him or President Bush.

"It will definitely reopen," Mr. Mineta said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Hopefully with this next week, Tuesday or Wednesday, we'll have a final decision."

Mr. Mineta made similar comments on morning talk shows on NBC and CBS, saying that a decision about Reagan Airport would be made after President Bush and the National Security Council reviewed the two reports from the six-person task force assembled two days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It is a very sensitive issue because of the closeness of the White House, the CIA, the Capitol, the Pentagon right in the flight path to National," Mr. Mineta said on CBS' "The Early Show."

The Washington Times first reported last week the airport would be reopened by the federal government after the two reports on airport and airlines security are presented.

Reagan Airport served 45,000 passengers daily before being closed the day of the attacks. While Reagan Airport, which employs 10,000 and contributes more than $5 billion annually to the local economy, remained shuttered, other airports around the country reopened Sept. 13 to commercial passenger service.

The Times reported Sept. 20 that congressional sources briefed on meetings held with Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey, the NSC and the Secret Service were told that Reagan Airport would reopen, but reports from Mr. Mineta's task forces needed to come in before such a decision could be made.

Sources have said that a draft plan to reopen the airport has shuttle service beginning first, with commercial airlines coming on board after security measures are fully in place. General aviation may have to suffer a bit longer as federal security experts are concerned they can not guarantee the safety of planes and crew.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican and Mr. Bush's handpicked choice to chair the Republican National Committee, as well as members of Northern Virginia's congressional delegation are scheduled to meet with White House staff on Monday, pressing their case that Reagan Airport needs to reopen.

Mr. Mineta said that in addition to the reports he has ordered, the Secret Service also wants to review a report on security around the airport done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Lab. The Secret Service is part of the working group assembled by Mr. Bush and the NSC, which also includes representatives from the departments of Defense and Transportation.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said during a press briefing yesterday that it is possible an announcement regarding the future of Reagan Airport may be made next week. But he stopped short of endorsing the comments of Mr. Mineta.

"The review is under way, and there's nothing further I can say until the review is complete and is shared," Mr. Fleischer said.

The president, Mr. Fleischer said, is "keenly aware of the impact of leaving Ronald Reagan Airport closed" and the economic impact it has on the Washington region as well as the airport's symbolic importance, but he noted that Sept. 11 forced Americans to re-evaluate the importance of symbols, "and the question of the National Airport is directly one of them."

On Thursday, Mr. Bush announced a series of security enhancements that include, among other things, the use of National Guard troops to immediately provide extra security at airports and placing the federal government in charge of airport security and screening services.

Rep. James P. Moran, a Virginia Democrat whose district includes the airport, said given that Mr. Bush has outlined significant steps to improve security at the airports, there is no reason Reagan Airport should not be reopened and that keeping the airport closed is "wholly inconsistent with the message" Mr. Bush is trying to convey to citizens that they should not be afraid to fly.

Mr. Moran, along with Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, plan to introduce legislation in Congress next week to reopen the airport if an announcement is not made.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Republican who represents Washington Dulles International Airport, said he would also like to see the federalization of baggage handlers and security operations, a move being considered by the White House.

"It ought to be in the Justice Department; it's a law-enforcement role," Mr. Wolf said.

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