- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

A wayward Pennsylvania pilot’s flight into restricted airspace Wednesday won’t thwart members of Congress who want to end a ban on private planes using Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Lawmakers and aviation industry lobbyists have complained with increasing volume that the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration should end the moratorium.

But the ban that took effect September 11, 2001, and prohibits most private planes from using the airport remains in place because of national security concerns.

The airspace violation “shouldn’t make any difference. You can put a lot of restrictions on general aviation. I just hope the TSA doesn’t take this and overreact,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

A raft of bills have been introduced to reopen it while imposing new security measures on general aviation.

Bills introduced Feb. 17 by Mr. Davis and Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, propose limiting the airports from which flights into Reagan Airport can originate. At a handful of those gateway airports, which have not been selected, TSA officials would screen passengers and inspect flight manifests and cargo.

“Some people will look at the incident and say, ‘That’s a reason we shouldn’t reopen the airport.’ But that had nothing to do with flying into Reagan, and that plane probably isn’t one that even would have been allowed into the airport,” said John Reid, Mr. Allen’s spokesman.

A bipartisan group from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Appropriations Committee also have demanded the administration allow private planes to use the facility.

In 2000, the last full year private planes had access to Reagan Airport, there were 44,592 general aviation flights in and out of the facility.

Wednesday’s airspace violation proved the Federal Aviation Administration can capably guard the Air Defense Identification Zone, said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents nearly 8,000 companies operating aircraft and has worked with the TSA since its inception in 2001 to draft security measures for general aviation at the airport.

“The system works,” he said. “Restoring general aviation at National Airport is a separate issue. Operating general aviation aircraft doesn’t deter from identifying unknown aircraft.”

In addition to introducing a wave of bills to lift the lengthy moratorium, lawmakers also have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction that the TSA missed March 1 and April 1 deadlines to submit a security plan to Congress outlining how private planes could safely fly into Reagan Airport.

“It is a complicated thing to achieve, but they’ve had plenty of time to perfect the plan,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee, which directed TSA to draft the report.

Persistent calls for lifting the ban and repeated criticism may be resonating.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a speech April 29 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the agency is working on a security plan.

“We’re very concerned about making sure that we are not overprotecting, but that we are adequately protecting. That’s the philosophy that we’re going to take with general aviation,” he said.

Reagan Airport was closed to all planes for 22 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. When the federal government reopened the airport Oct. 4, 2001, it allowed limited commercial flights to resume, and its commercial service was fully restored April 27, 2002.

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