Bush administration to reopen Reagan National Airport outside Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush will authorize reopening Reagan National Airport outside Washington with new security measures, allowing a limited number of flights at the only commercial airport left dark since the Sept. 11 hijackings, administration officials said Monday.
Bush signed off on a new security package at a White House meeting Monday and will announce his plans as early as Tuesday, said several officials involved in the discussions. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal officials closed the airport – and briefly considered shutting it down for good – because flight paths bring planes close to the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon. A plane hijacked from Virginia’s Dulles International Airport farther out from the city crashed into the Pentagon three weeks ago, shortly after two other planes struck the World Trade Center in New York.
The officials said Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located in Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington, could open in a matter of weeks under new security rules, which include limiting the number of incoming and outgoing flights and placing air marshals on all planes using the airport.
Virginia lawmakers have urged the White House to reopen the airport, which is a major source of jobs in the Washington area. Other members of Congress also have pushed for reopening the airport, a favorite of lawmakers returning to their districts each weekend.
Each day, some 42,000 passengers use the airport, and 10,200 people work there. About 6,000 jobs are at closely connected businesses such as car rental companies, and local business groups estimate that another 70,000 tourism and hospitality jobs depend on the airport. Overall, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority estimates that the airport pumps $2.4 billion a year into the local economy.
Discussions have focused on adding extra security to prevent hijackers from taking control of planes either arriving or leaving.
Other possible security improvements include increasing screening of passengers and luggage and securing the cockpits of all airplanes.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., emerged from a meeting with Bush adviser Karl Rove and White House chief of staff Andrew Card and other Virginia lawmakers to say that air marshals would be on all flights in and out of the airport.
In addition, rather than having all flights coming into the airport go along the Potomac River, routes would be scrambled, Davis said.
Efforts to require all planes taking off to head south and all planes arriving to come into the airport from the south, away from the government buildings, have been rejected as impractical, said Rep. James Moran, D-Va., whose district includes the airport. Administration officials confirmed that.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said the security measures would apply to planes both taking off and landing at the airport.
”It’s not just making Reagan Airport secure,” Warner said. ”It’s the feeder airports.”
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said the National Security Council insisted on some security provisions before the airport could open. ”There’s no reason these things can’t be complied with,” Mica said.
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