October 17, 2005

Washington airport set to reopen to private planes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 U.S.
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 45 miles 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.