- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport remained closed yesterday amid speculation that its proximity to the government's nerve centers makes it too much of a risk to open soon.
At least one industry association says it should never reopen to commercial traffic.
"The risk that I envision is that airplanes, either on the approach or taking off from National, could veer off and hit the White House or Pentagon," said Dave Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. "We have the risk of the government being decapitated. Just within a matter of seconds it could veer into one of these buildings."
He has recommended for several years that all commercial aviation be moved to Washington Dulles International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport or Andrews Air Force Base. Air Force One then should be moved to National Airport, he said.
The terrorist attack on the Pentagon Tuesday was the second time in seven years that a suicide pilot has revealed the vulnerability of important buildings in the nation's capital.
In September 1994, an unemployed truck driver stole a single-engine Cessna from a private airfield north of Baltimore and crashed it into the west side of the White House. Although damage to the structure was slight, the plane rammed into an area just under the president's living quarters and prompted security reviews by the Secret Service.
Federal officials acknowledge the risk of planes veering off course but say they have no plans to close Reagan National Airport beyond the time of the current emergency.
"Clearly, its proximity to the District and its facilities is an issue," said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Paul Turk. He would not speculate on long-term closure of the airport.
"All I can tell you is that it is under temporary, indefinite closure," Mr. Turk said.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to hold hearings on aviation safety as early as next week in the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people in Washington and New York.
"I guess someone might raise the issue [of Reagan National] in the context of that hearing," said committee spokesman Mike Strachn. However, Congress alone would not have the authority to limit accessibility or close the airport.
"It would be the Congress in conjunction with the White House and of course the [Metropolitan Washington] Airports Authority," Mr. Strachn said.
So far, a permanent or long-term closure of Reagon National Airport lacks congressional support, he said.
Committee Chairman Don Young, Alaska Republican, believes "that is much too drastic of a position to take at this point," Mr. Strachn said. "While there are security issues that must be addressed, there are other options before going to something that extreme."
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has scheduled an aviation safety hearing for Thursday.
Long-term closure of Reagan National would run into opposition from the airports authority, which manages Reagan National and Dulles airports.
"We don't think it's necessary," said Jonathan Gaffney, Airports Authority spokesman. He agreed with closing the airport only while the FBI and FAA assess risks after the assault on the Pentagon.
"We fully expect the airport will open again," Mr. Gaffney said. "It's an important part of the nation's aviation system. Ten thousand people work out here. Speculation that we will never open again is inappropriate at this point."
Among those hurt after only a few days of the closure is US Airways, the largest airline tenant at the airport.
US Airways operates 186 daily flights out of Reagan National. Airline spokesman Rick Weintraub did not have an estimate of the financial damage this week.
The House of Representatives considered passing legislation yesterday that would provide $2.5 billion in direct aid and $12.5 billion in guaranteed loans to airlines hit by this week's airspace closure and travelers' fear of flying after of the attacks.
The Senate will not be able to act on the measure until next week, perhaps Thursday.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said any action will serve as a strong signal to the financial markets that Congress will not let the industry sink.
Other airports across the nation were in various stages of reopening yesterday.
Airport officials said it could be late next week before commercial service is fully restored.
The delay was caused in part by an FAA requirement of new security procedures. Curbside check-ins now are prohibited, and only ticketed passengers are allowed beyond security screening points. The airports also were staffed with new groups of armed agents from the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs.
Washington Dulles International, the origin of the hijacked flight that struck the Pentagon, reopened on Thursday. However, most airlines operated on reduced schedules.
The New York City area's three major airports reopened briefly on Thursday but closed hours later when the FBI detained 10 persons of Middle Eastern extraction for questioning.
They later were cleared of wrongdoing, and the three airports were reopened before noon yesterday.
Chicago's Midway Airport was closed yesterday after Chicago police detained two persons.
The Transportation Department cleared private aircraft to fly again beginning at 4 p.m. yesterday, but not within 25 miles of Washington and New York City.
Philadelphia International Airport operated at half its normal operations much of yesterday. At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport yesterday morning, cots still were filled with passengers who had been stranded when the FAA shut down all flights on Tuesday.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide