- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Private aircraft should be able to resume using Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by midsummer, Transportation Department officials said yesterday.
Since September 11, private aircraft have been banned from the airport because of the security risk they present to the White House, the Pentagon and other government buildings nearby.
New restrictions the Bush administration plans to announce this month are supposed to reduce any risks that terrorists might use private aircraft at Reagan Airport to attack the nation's capital.
"There has not been a desire to keep general aviation out," said Read Van de Water, the Transportation Department's assistant secretary for aviation. "But we are mindful of how close the airport is to critical infrastructure in Washington."
Mr. Van de Water was a witness at a hearing before the House Government Reform District of Columbia subcommittee, where he announced conditions and a timetable for reopening the airport to private aircraft. The subcommittee is looking into inconveniences security restrictions at Reagan Airport continue to impose on Washington and its residents.
Although details are still being worked out, the security criteria for private aircraft include:
Background checks of pilots.
Advance clearance of passenger manifests by federal transportation-security officials.
Screening of passengers and their baggage.
Closer inspection of planes before departure.
Special traffic-control procedures, such as passwords that pilots must use before takeoffs.
Flights are to resume immediately after administrative procedures implement the new security restrictions. Before September 11, about 175 private aircraft used Reagan Airport daily.
General aviation refers to privately owned aircraft that seat no more than 19 passengers. They include business jets and single-engine turboprops. Reagan Airport is the nation's only airport that has not resumed general aviation.
The number of commercial flights authorized by the Transportation Department was gradually increased to the 100 percent level on April 15. Other restrictions remain, such as armed air marshals on each airplane and a requirement that passengers remain in their seats for the first and last half-hour of each flight.
The new restrictions on private flights will be published as an interim final rule in the Federal Register. Afterward, the Transportation Department will accept comments from interested parties before deciding whether to finalize the rule. During the interim, private aircraft will be able to use Reagan Airport.
"We hope to reach a conclusion on the key policy decisions by the end of May," Mr. Van de Water said.
Witnesses said the ban on private flights was hurting both their businesses and the local economy.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called the ban on private flights "a significant drag on the economy."
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said, "At National, general aviation is not the mom-and-pop Cessnas and Piper Cubs. Instead, it's business people, government officials and CEOs who have their own aircraft and need the convenience of an airport close to the nation's capital to conduct their business."

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