- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

Private planes are no closer to using Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport than they were a month ago, when the Transportation Security Administration said it would put rules in place to restore general aviation at the facility.

Federal officials pledged May 25 to publish rules within days outlining new measures that private planes must follow to resume operations at Reagan Airport. After publication of the new rules and a 90-day comment period, the airport will reopen.

But the new rules haven’t been published. The delay makes it unlikely that private planes will be allowed to use the airport before October, more than four years after the federal government put the ban in place because of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We are just incredibly frustrated. We have people who want to be able to travel to the airport for business, and they’re being told to wait and wait and wait,” said James Coyne, executive director of the National Air Transportation Association, an industry group representing aviation companies.

General aviation includes private planes flown by corporations and private citizens.

Advocates of ending the ban on general aviation at Reagan Airport argue that the prohibition has cost an estimated $177 million in lost wages and lost economic activity through March 2004.

TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter said the rules are under review by the Department of Homeland Security.

There is no timetable for completion of the review, publication of the rule or an end to the ban.

David Stone, the former assistant secretary of homeland security for the TSA, generated widespread relief when he said security officials are satisfied that general aviation can safely return to Reagan Airport if aviators follow specific procedures.

Under the security proposal, private planes can fly 48 flights a day into Reagan Airport, but only from 12 airports across the country. Security officials will screen each flight’s pilots, crew members, passengers and their baggage.

In addition, armed guards must be aboard each flight.

Mr. Stone’s announcement might have been premature because security officials still are grappling with the requirement to have armed guards on private flights.

Mr. Stone, who left the TSA just nine days after outlining rules to restore general aviation, said the armed guards must be law-enforcement officers “in good standing.”

An employee at the TSA who asked not to be identified, said officials must determine who qualifies as a law-enforcement officer in good standing. Mr. Stone said the guards on private flights won’t be federal air marshals, but it is not clear whether they must be police officers or whether they can be private security guards.

It also is not clear why Mr. Stone said the ban on general aviation would be lifted if details of the security plan weren’t ready.

“I think what you heard from David Stone that day is that this is something they haven’t done before, so they are probably working on contingencies and talking about training issues” for officers, said Ed Bolen, president and chief executive of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents nearly 8,000 companies operating aircraft.

Officials tweaking the security plan also might be trying to figure out how much to charge companies that fly to Reagan Airport. Mr. Stone said the federal government will fund the program through fees paid by airlines shuttling passengers to the airport.

Despite the latest delay, general aviation advocates still expect the ban to be lifted — eventually.

“These things always seem to take longer than you think they will. But I think the decision has been made to make this work,” Mr. Bolen said.

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