Tags: Reagan | Airport: | Security | Risk | National | Symbol?

Reagan Airport: Security Risk or National Symbol?

Wednesday, 19 September 2001 12:00 AM

According to a group of political and business leaders from the area, reopening Reagan National is as important for the spirit of the country as it is for the economy of the region. The group met late Tuesday afternoon to express their unity of purpose in calling for the facility to be reopened, sooner rather than later.

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who called the meeting, acknowledged that it is too early to make a final decision on the airport's fate.

"The nation, as of this moment, has not reached that level of security such that we can arrive this hour with a decision with regard to this airport," he said at the Capitol Hill press conference.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) criticized the handling of the decision to keep Reagan National closed when other airports around the country were re-opened.

"Whoever decided to use the words, 'National Airport has been closed indefinitely,' has already done enormous harm," she said.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) warned that decision-makers must consider the symbolism of Reagan National along with the economic and security concerns.

"Just a few weeks of having Reagan National Airport shut down," he said, "seems to me like a symbol that we cannot protect our capitol like we should."

Allen reiterated his belief that security issues must be primary, but he feels much of the potential threat of hijacking can be eliminated by making the cockpits of commercial airliners, "as safe as a vault, so that no one can get in," while a plane is in flight.

He also suggested that security experts develop the ability to remotely control an aircraft in the event it is taken over by terrorists, intent on using it as a victim-laden missile.

U.S. Airways operated almost hourly flights from Reagan National prior to the terrorist attacks.

"Closing National would be a visible victory for terrorism," said Steve Wolf, chairman of U.S. Airways. "It must be opened at the earliest possible date, with enormous security precautions."

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) believes the airport can be reopened, without sacrificing the safety of either passengers, or the people of Washington, D.C.

Much of the concern of reopening the facility is related to its close proximity to potential terrorist targets such as the U.S. Capitol or the White House.

"When a plane is on the ground, it's less likely to get hijacked," Moran said. "They're gonna hijack it while it's in the air, not while it's taking off."

Moran believes a pilot threatened with a hijacking from Reagan National could simply land the plane before it could be taken over. He said the danger to downtown Washington would be much greater from planes leaving neighboring Baltimore-Washington International, or Dulles International Airports.

American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon, originated from Dulles International.

Moran agrees with Allen that commercial airliners' cockpits should be made impenetrable. He also supports the wide-ranging use of armed "sky marshals" to deal with any threats that might occur in the air.

Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.) said he and many of his fellow members of Congress are adamant about the reopening of Reagan National.

"Congress does not want this airport closed," he said. "We recognize the security issues and we are willing to address them."

Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey voiced her appreciation for the sentiments expressed and suggestions made at the meeting.

"The Secretary (of Transportation) and the president are very much aware of the economic implications of closing Reagan National," she said.

Garvey was scheduled to attend a meeting of the National Security Council following the press conference. She expected to hear arguments from the Defense Department and the Secret Service encouraging the permanent closure of the airport, due to its proximity to the Pentagon and the White House.

"Clearly they have some issues," Garvey acknowledged. "We hope those can be resolved. We're prepared to offer some alternatives as to how the airport could be safely reopened."

Her reference to the Secret Service drew a quick response from Davis who recalled the head of the Secret Service testifying in 1998 that Reagan National would already be closed, if the decision was left to his agency.

"That has always been their position. If you allow just the national security people to make the decision, that's going to be the decision," Davis said. "We have to find the right balance here."

Warner interjected that finding that balance will not include, as has been rumored in media reports, any consideration of swapping Reagan National Airport for Andrews Air Force Base.

"That's not gonna happen," Warner exclaimed, slapping his hand on the table for emphasis.

Allen called the idea "ludicrous."

Garvey again stressed her belief that Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta understands the symbolic concerns of closing "The National Airport."

As the meeting was about to conclude, Jay Fissette, chairman of the Arlington County, Va., Board of Supervisors, whose county is served by Reagan National, encouraged the members of Congress in attendance to consider the broader picture.

"If we cannot make Reagan National Airport safe," he said, "we are admitting to all U.S. citizens that no airport can be made safe."

Copyright 2001

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According to a group of political and business leaders from the area, reopening Reagan National is as important for the spirit of the country as it is for the economy of the region. The group met late Tuesday afternoon to express their unity of purpose in calling for the...
Reagan,Airport:,Security,Risk,National,Symbol?
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2001-00-19
Wednesday, 19 September 2001 12:00 AM
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