- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

Federal authorities ordered the nation's airports closed and America's airspace cleared shortly after horror struck on Sept. 11. Most airlines and airports are up and running again, albeit with beefed-up security and less-than-profitable complements of passengers. But Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport remains shuttered, closed because of its proximity to America's treasures. Now, with all due respect to the tough tasks on the must-do lists of the National Security Council and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, the message is simple open the airport.

Again the safety experts have been out in force, but the ultimate decision belongs to the president. He ought not cave on the question of Reagan airport. To hear Mr. Mineta, particular issues surrounding Reagan and Dulles airports might not be resolved until October, when he receives recommendations from a panel of security and aviation experts. Those issues include having all flights depart "to the south or arrive to the south," not a bad idea perhaps. Much more troublesome are arguments advanced by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has raised the specter of leaving Reagan National Airport closed for good. Jet fighters might have a clear shot at hijacked planes taking off from Dulles, so the argument goes, but won't have time to face an enemy taking off or landing at Reagan. To be sure, the thought of shooting down a plane over Washington is frightful.

However, Mr. Bush should understand that leaving Reagan airport closed makes cowards of all of us. Ancillary businesses might soon be in the bottom of the Potomac, and their employees in bread lines. Hotels in and around Crystal City are hurting already; 10,000 citizens with jobs tied directly to the airport are out of work, and so are cabbies, shuttle drivers, rental car businesses, restaurants and shopkeepers. The list from Northern Virginia goes on and on. Consider as well the $5 billion in regional implications on the other side of the Potomac. Indeed, the entire region needs Reagan airport reopened.

It was unfair that Reagan airport was "plucked out of the pack," James A. Wilding, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said this week in a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times. It is unfair, for sure, considering Reagan airport is an "extraordinary convenience," not just to business travelers, but also to Congress and folks visiting grandma. And it is especially unfair given that no terrorist plane has ever taken off from there. In fact, last week's ill-fated flight originated at Dulles.

"There is no reason why the other airports should be open and [Reagan] should be closed," Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore said yesterday. Mr. Gilmore is also the chairman of the Advisory Panel on Domestic Terrorism. "They have a belief that an airplane this close to, obviously, very rich targets … .needs to have special attention. We disagree with that." Closing Reagan airport essentially makes another victory for the terrorists.

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