- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

Seven months after September 11, life is returning to normal at least in some respects. Though the impact of the tragedy will be with us in perpetuity, the reopening of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to its pre-September 11 levels of commercial air traffic, as authorized this week, should aid the nascent economic recovery particularly the region's tourism business, which suffered greatly when air traffic was effectively shut down for many weeks following the terrorist attacks. Reagan National, of course, was closed far longer than any other American airport, and during all that time, thousands of people were effectively put out of work. Reagan National became, for a period of time, a vacant mausoleum on the Potomac.

The good news, though, is that the economic damage resulting from the closure and subsequent flight restrictions appears not to have been permanent. Recent indicators suggest that both tourism and air travel have almost fully recovered to their pre-September 11 levels. This uptick is almost certainly related to the increased air traffic at Reagan National, a major regional hub for several commercial airlines, including United, as well as the airport most convenient to the downtown D.C. area. Tara Hamilton of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority told this newspaper's Tom Ramstack that air travel at Reagan National has been picking up steam since Easter especially. With the airport back up to 800 flights daily, this trend should continue.

Some restrictions are still in effect, however. General aviation that is, private airplanes still cannot use the airport, and that creates a significant impediment to corporate and business travelers. Also, revised flight paths over residential areas (and away from the Capitol, White House and Mall) continue to generate a lot of noise for area residents. And aircraft are required to leave the airport as quickly as possible, necessitating noisy, full-throttle take-offs. These annoyances, while admittedly unpleasant, are nonetheless a small price to pay in return for the extra measure of security they provide.

Not everyone agrees, though. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has been critical of the revised flight paths, saying "We don't need to use the flight pattern that we used immediately after September 11." That's a pretty amazing statement. Mrs. Norton has neither aviation nor security expertise, and it's remarkable that she would undertake to second-guess those who do.

Though half-a-year has passed since September 11 and things may seem quiescent, the fact is we're still at war. Another attack is entirely possible. Mrs. Norton and other nattering nabobs should be thankful that Reagan National is back in business owing to the vigilance and judgment of those charged with making sure that pre-September 11 levels of air travel, traffic and safety are not mutually exclusive.

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