- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Private aircraft will resume using Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport this year but will face a raft of stringent rules.

The federal government yesterday loosened the shackles on the airport and ended a moratorium on general aviation that had been in place since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Under the proposed restrictions, private planes would be allowed to fly only 48 flights a day into Reagan Airport from 12 airports across the country. Limiting arrivals to a handful of gateway airports will allow security officials to screen pilots, crew members, passengers and their baggage.

Armed guards will be aboard each flight, although they won’t be federal air marshals.

General aviation at Reagan Airport could resume by September.

The 48 flights allowed into Reagan Airport each day under the proposed rules would be far fewer than the number of arrivals prior to the terrorist attacks. More than 120 private aircraft used the airport daily before September 11, 2001.

Reagan Airport handles about 800 commercial flights each day.

Aviation industry lobbyists and members of Congress increased pressure on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) this year to reopen the airport, in part because of concern over the economic impact of the lengthy moratorium.

Closing the airport to private planes cost an estimated $177 million in lost wages and lost economic activity through March 2004, according to the National Air Transportation Association, which represents airlines.

“This is going to be good for jobs,” said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican.

The security plan plodded toward completion largely because of the number of agencies involved in drafting it — from the TSA to the Department of Homeland Security, including the Secret Service.

“This day has been a long time in coming,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

But officials came up with security procedures that give people access to the District while ensuring safety, said David Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security for the TSA.

The proposed security measures for private aircraft exceed the measures that commercial flights must follow.

“This is a vigorous security plan,” Mr. Stone said.

Proposed rules to allow general aviation back at Reagan Airport are part of a larger effort to control the airspace over the nation’s capital. Last week, the federal government began using lasers to warn pilots who make unauthorized flights into the air defense identification zone — a 2,000-square-mile restricted area around Washington. This week, Homeland Security officials said they are discussing putting signs reading “Follow Me” on the back of Black Hawk helicopters to communicate with wayward pilots.

Several congressmen yesterday said proposed rules for private aircraft flying to Reagan Airport are too restrictive, but they held out hope that security officials will relax the procedures later.

“I’m confident the plan will work. Could it be different? Yes. But this is a beginning,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security subcommittee.

Mr. Stone said the TSA is willing to re-examine the procedures once they’re in place. He also said the agency could decide later to increase the number of planes allowed to fly to the airport.

Commercial aviation also faced restrictions when Reagan Airport reopened Oct. 4, 2001. Just eight planes a day were allowed to fly into the airport initially, and restrictions on the number of daily flights weren’t fully lifted until April 27, 2002.

“We would expect the process to evolve over time,” said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents nearly 8,000 companies operating aircraft.

Some details of the government’s security plan haven’t been disclosed, but Mr. Stone said more information will be available when the TSA publishes the proposed rules this week in the Federal Register.

Mr. Stone said each private flight will have a law-enforcement officer “in good standing,” but supporters said they want to know more about that aspect of the plan.

“We have to make sure there are enough law-enforcement officers,” said Eric Byer, lobbyist for the National Air Transportation Association.

Supporters also want to find out how much they will have to pay to fund the program. Mr. Stone said the agency’s rules will outline the costs and how much the private sector must pay to support the program.

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