- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta yesterday appointed a task force of nongovernmental analysts to make recommendations by Oct. 1 on improving airline security against terrorism.
Mr. Mineta also said that if flights are resumed into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, they could be restricted to airspace that keeps them clear of important government buildings.
The airport remains closed while the Federal Aviation Administration and Defense Department assess the risk of airplanes veering from their scheduled paths and crashing into buildings, similar to the terrorist attacks on Tuesday that destroyed New York's World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.
"We're going to be working with the Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the president on that issue," Mr. Mineta said at a press conference.
Only about 50 airplanes, many of them private, remain at National. The rest have been dispersed to airports around the country.
"I can't say that it's being closed permanently," Mr. Mineta said. "I can say it's closed for right now."
The most likely restrictions if the airport reopens would require takeoffs to be southbound and landings to come in from the south, away from government buildings and monuments, he said.
Opposition to reopening National Airport is coming from the Defense Department.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said National Airport should remain closed indefinitely because of its close flight path to the White House, Capitol and Pentagon.
"We have airports at Dulles. We have airports at Baltimore, which give a great deal more time for a fighter-interceptor to do something," he said.
The airline security task force is divided into two groups.
One task force will focus on improving in-flight security. The other task force is assigned to develop new ways to prevent terrorists from boarding commercial airplanes.
The airline security task force includes a pilot, airline executives and an airplane designer from Boeing.
Among its first priorities will be determining how to prevent terrorists from entering cockpits, Mr. Mineta said.
Regulations require the cockpits to be locked during flights, but FAA officials say the doors can be forced open. Mr. Mineta also said crew members should have the option of leaving cockpits to use the bathroom or get food.
He predicted fast action when the task force makes its assigned recommendations.
"The Department of Transportation is prepared to act immediately," Mr. Mineta said.
Meanwhile, the Air Line Pilots Association began advising its members to consider depressurizing airplanes in flight or taking drastic maneuvers to keep assailants off balance and away from cockpits.
Until now, pilots have been taught in yearly training sessions to cooperate with hijackers.
Any changes in cabin-door design or procedures are expected to be among many security changes, some of which could change the way travelers use the airlines, FAA officials said.
"There are a lot of things that are being looked at in the wake of these incidents," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. "We really can't predict what will come up. If they're forming a task force, a lot of things are going to be on the table."
David S. Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said the task force should include airline passengers.
"Since the airline system in our country is designed to serve the needs of airline passengers, the failure to have the views, needs and interests of airline passengers represented on this critical task force is a significant shortcoming," Mr. Stempler said.

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