- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will be closed indefinitely, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority ruled yesterday.
The airport, one of the most convenient of any major city, sat empty yesterday while the Department of Transportation reopened the nation's commercial airspace at 11 a.m.
Federal officials will increase the police presence at U.S. airports to improve security, guard against terrorism and restore public confidence, the government said.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta sounded defiant yesterday when he announced that all commercial flights could resume after airlines and airports come into compliance with new regulations released Wednesday by his department and the Federal Aviation Administration. (Information about the new regulations is available at www.flyfaa.gov.)
"We will not allow this enemy to win the war by restricting our freedom of mobility," Mr. Mineta said at a news conference.
But the risks of Reagan National's majestic flight path — down the Potomac River, over the CIA, above the monuments and past the White House and Pentagon — are all too obvious now: A flight could easily veer off path and smash into any one of these symbols and stations of American democracy. With its security plan not yet approved and given its proximity to Washington's landmarks, the airports authority closed it indefinitely.
Officials at Boston's Logan International Airport, where two of the hijacked planes took off, also were still trying to comply with new federal security measures.
About 100 planes with passengers departed from Washington Dulles International Airport, where the hijacked American Airlines plane that hurtled into the Pentagon had taken off. An All Nippon Airways flight bound for Tokyo, the first to depart from Dulles, took off at 4 p.m., said Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Some airlines took a measured approach to resuming service.
While American Airlines said it would operate about 70 flights yesterday, compared with the 2,500 flights it typically operates, United Airlines said it would not resume flying until today. Many airlines shuttled empty planes between airports to prepare for resumption of full service.
Mr. Mineta said the federal government will increase the police presence at airports, a palpable sign of the U.S. response to the terrorist attack. He also announced he has asked the Defense Department to put military personnel, the elite Delta Force, on planes to supplement the FAA's air marshal program. The FAA also will ask whether it can draft agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to serve as federal air marshals.
"We are asking for expeditious treatment and action by the Department of Defense to give us some Delta Force folks. They are already trained on high-risk situations and it wouldn't take that much more training to put the Delta Forces on the airplanes," Mr. Mineta said. In addition, uniformed agents from the Justice Department and Treasury Department will work in airports across the country.
"The added presence of these officers will augment our existing heightened security procedures, serving as a visible reminder of our strong commitment to protect the safety of the American people and the traveling public," he said.
But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said at a press conference yesterday that the Delta Force, a group started in 1977 by the U.S. Army to respond to terrorist incidents, may be too qualified for the job.
"It doesn't require all the exotic training that Delta Force members have," he said.
Mr. Mineta's request for military personnel is under discussion, Mr. Wolfowitz said.
Mr. Mineta said the decision to reopen the commercial airspace was made after discussions with White House officials, aviation industry leaders, law enforcement and intelligence officials. The transportation secretary had said Wednesday it was not clear when commercial airspace would be fully reopened.
President Bush said U.S. officials have done everything they can to make air travel safe after Tuesday's terrorist attack that turned three commercial flights into weapons that killed thousands at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
On Wednesday the Transportation Department and FAA issued new rules requiring airports to prohibit curbside and off-site check in of passengers, prohibit passengers from taking all knives on planes, prohibit people without airline tickets beyond security checkpoints and to monitor cars at airport terminals more carefully.
Federal officials are considering other remedies to bolster the short-term safety measures they issued this week. There is an ongoing discussion over whether to require security-checkpoint workers, or screeners, to go through more training, Mr. Mineta said.
"If screening is a problem, and I think it is a problem, we've got to get those standards up," he said.
Mr. Mineta also said yesterday federal officials are temporarily banning the transportation of mail on commercial flights.
The transportation secretary warned it could take a long time to get the nation's air-travel system back in operation.
An estimated 40,000 planes take off daily from U.S. airports.


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