Washington airport set to reopen to private planes

WASHINGTON - Private and charter planes will be allowed to resume flights to and from Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport on Tuesday for the first time since the September 11, 2001 attacks, a government spokesman said.

The Virginia airport is located in the shadow of the Pentagon and within close proximity of the White House, the Capitol and other landmarks.

Security for private planes will be heavy, and will include a requirement for an armed, government-approved security officer on board.

"Tomorrow is the day that we will be returning to National," said Darrin Kayser, a spokesman for the US Transportation Security Administration. "We're going to have space for up to 48 flights (takeoffs and landings combined)."

That compares to roughly 122 daily takeoffs and landings in 2000, the last full year before the hijacked airline attacks on New York and Washington, said Dan Kidder, spokesman for the National Air Transportation Association trade group.

Kidder said only two private flights were scheduled at Reagan National Airport on Tuesday.

"The TSA regulations are extremely complex and extremely expensive and difficult to comply with, so it's going to take a while to get up to that 48 number," he said, adding that security required a passenger list 24 hours before flights.

Reagan National has been closed to business jets, charter aircraft, and other small airplanes since September 11, out of concern that they would be harder to secure than scheduled commercial planes.

But Congress has pressured the administration to make allowances for general aviation traffic and urged it to rescind the ban.

Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia officials and business groups also have complained about the economic impact of halting general aviation service.

The return of private and charter flights to the airport has no impact on a continued ban on unapproved flights within a "no-fly" area around Washington.

Hundreds of pilots each year violate the restricted airspace that stretches up to 72km around Washington, aviation officials say. But virtually all incidents are resolved with a quick radio call from air traffic controllers.

In some cases military fighter jets have been deployed to intercept wayward aircraft.

Several times this year, planes that strayed into the restricted airspace set off security scares that resulted in the evacuation of some government buildings.

- REUTERS

 

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