- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

It will take a long time for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to return to pre-September 11 business levels, despite the official 100 percent reopening yesterday, according to industry and political insiders.

No unusual event marked the first day the U.S. Transportation Department authorized the number of flights to return to 792 per day, which is the same number flown in and out of the airport before September 11. Until yesterday, only 620 were authorized, or 77 percent of the airport's capacity.

"Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta has said that the airlines could return to 100 percent operation at National Airport today, but that is not the case," Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said in a statement.

He referred to continuing restrictions on the type, hours and routes of airplanes that use Reagan Airport:

•Large airplanes that seat more than 156 passengers still are prohibited from using the airport on the theory they represent the greatest threat to key government buildings as suicidal missiles.

•Private aircraft, or general aviation, is excluded, whereas before September 11 about 100 general aviation flights a day used the airport.

•A curfew will not allow flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

•Airliners must fly routes over residential areas to keep them away from the White House and the Capitol.

"Keeping general aviation operations shuttered shows the airport is not up to full speed," Mr. Moran said. He said the restrictions hurt the local economy.

The Transportation Security Administration said the ban on general aviation probably will be lifted in the summer.

The nighttime curfew eliminated about 50 daily flights, according to Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. No approximate date has been set by the Transportation Department to lift the curfew.

Nevertheless, she said she was happy another milestone was reached yesterday in reopening the airport.

"We're back to business," Miss Hamilton said. "It's a busy day. The airlines are going to bring back flights as much as possible in the next month and a half."

The airport was operating at 80 percent of its flight capacity yesterday, she said.

Airlines, retailers and passengers also said they were happy about the reopening of flights but were underwhelmed by any events yesterday.

"The change on Monday, while we welcome it, will have a limited effect on our schedule," said Kurt Ebenhoch, Northwest Airlines spokesman. "We will be adding an additional frequency at the Reagan National flight market."

However, "Because of the curfew, we're not able to add as many flights as we'd like," he said.

New York resident Ann Murphy, who was returning home after a visit to her daughter in Georgetown, said the reopening was "encouraging," but added that she noticed "nothing unusual" as she waited in line to pass through a security checkpoint.

Herminia Nartates, manager of Faber Gifts & News Stand in Terminal B, said business is about the same now as before September 11. "It's going up every day," she said.

Cora Leonen, assistant manager of the Sweet Factory candy store in Terminal B, said she was glad about the reopening but that it had no immediate effect on her business. "It's a regular day," she said.

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