- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced yesterday that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has been cleared to return to pre-September 11 flight levels by April 15.
The airport, which was the last commercial airport to reopen after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center shut down the country's aviation industry, has been gradually increasing its capacity and can return to full capacity 800 daily flights next month, the Transportation Department said.
Airport officials were happy about the latest green light from the federal government, but they pointed out there are still some restrictions hampering operations.
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President Jim Wilding said he expects a resumption of only about 90 percent of flights until federal authorities lift a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. flight curfew and allow planes larger than Boeing 737s.
Other area officials, who had been frustrated by a slowdown that threatened to disrupt the region's busy tourist season, praised yesterday's announcement.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting congressional representative, called the reopening "a huge break" for the city, coming "just in time for the peak tourist season and the cherry blossom season." Many schools from around the country also bring children to the city for field trips in the spring.
"There was simply no way for this economy to be back to normal" until the airport returned to business as usual, said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, called the reopening "an important symbolic message" that America will not surrender its way of life.
He said operating the airport at near capacity is vital to the 10,000 area residents who work at the airport and the thousands more employed in its related industries.
Mr. Davis was among a bipartisan regional congressional delegation that urged Mr. Mineta in a letter yesterday to restore the airport to full flight levels as soon as possible. The delegation included Mrs. Norton, Virginia Democratic Rep. James P. Moran and Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf, and Maryland Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella and Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.
During a first phase of reopening, which began Oct. 4, flight service was restored to eight cities on six selected airlines.
A second phase begun Oct. 26 added 18 additional cities on eight additional airlines.
Incremental increases Jan. 2, Feb. 1 and March 1 increased service to the 69 destinations previously served by the airport and brought the total number of daily flights to 620, or 77 percent of full capacity.
In addition to fewer flights, the airport has also changed flight-path procedures for security measures.
Flights leaving Reagan Airport used to fly outbound over the Potomac River. Now they are required to take off at full throttle and fly out over residential communities in Northwest and suburban Maryland.
Mrs. Norton said that while she was happy with the reopening, the problems created by flight noise from the security measures must be addressed.
"If we are back to normal, then everything ought to be back to normal including the horrendous noise pollution that has all but wrecked the quality of life in this area," said Mrs. Norton.
Bill Mosley, public affairs specialist for the Department of Transportation, said the department is looking at the flight paths, in addition to other operational issues, such as an ongoing ban on private flights.
"We'll be coming to some decision on that shortly," he said. "For security reasons, we have not opened it to general aviation, but we are sensitive to the issues of the general aviation community."

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