- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Private planes will be allowed to take off and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for the first time since September 11, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration is expected to announce today, according to sources in government and aviation who have seen the plan.

Congress has long been pressuring TSA to reopen the airport to charter aircraft, business jets and private planes. It is more convenient to downtown Washington than the other two airports in the region, Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore Washington International Airport.

But TSA has been reluctant to reopen Reagan Airport to private aircraft because it’s so close to the Capitol, the White House and other potential terrorist targets.

It took weeks after the terror attacks for security officials to reopen the airport to commercial airlines.

“It’s overdue,” said Rep. John L. Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee. “It can be done safely, I’ve been convinced all along.”

The requirements will be strict, said sources familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because TSA had not yet made an announcement.

In 90 days, the plan would allow 48 flights into the airport per day. Their crews will have to have their backgrounds checked and an armed law-enforcement officer will have to be on board, the sources said.

Planes will have to stop first at one of 12 so-called gateway airports so passengers and flight crew can undergo security screening, according to the plan.

TSA has imposed strict security at the airport. Commercial airline passengers, for example, are not allowed to leave their seats for 30 minutes upon takeoff and landing at Reagan Airport.

The airport is within the capital city’s restricted zone, about a 16-mile radius around the Washington Monument.

Since February 2003, private planes have not been allowed to fly in the Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ — an area of about 2,000 square miles radiating from the three airports around Washington — unless they have a special transponder code and maintain radio contact with the Federal Aviation Administration.

A single-engine plane that flew within three miles of the White House on May 11 prompted the evacuation of thousands of people and the scrambling of two F-16s, a Black Hawk helicopter and a Citation jet.

Mr. Mica said the incident had nothing to do with opening the airport to general aviation. He applauded Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for allowing the plan to go forward.

“We’ve gotten up to this point several times, and the bureaucrats all ran like scalded dogs,” Mr. Mica said.

He pointed out that hundreds of people — “politicians and highfalutin people” — were granted waivers to fly into the airport during President Bush’s inauguration.

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