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"Bill pushes for general aviation at Reagan"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2005 18:37:28 -0600
Friday, February 18, 2005
Bill pushes for general aviation at Reagan
By William Glanz
The Washington (DC) Times
Lawmakers are becoming more impatient with the seemingly interminable
moratorium on general aviation at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, yesterday introduced a bill
requiring the Department of Homeland Security to create a plan to let
corporate planes and other private pilots use the airport again, more than
three years after the federal government banned them because of national
"If the government was able to find conditions under which commercial
aviation could operate out of Reagan National following September 11, I see
no reason why similar conditions or requirements could not be developed to
allow for general aviation to also begin work again," Mr. Allen said at a
press conference at Gravelly Point, the waterfront park next to the airport.
In 2000, there were 44,592 general aviation flights in and out of the
airport, and its closure has nearly killed the small companies that service
the private flights.
Any plan restoring general aviation at the airport must include safety
measures to protect the "Capital region," Transportation Security
Administration spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said.
She also said plans already are under consideration to allow general
aviation at Reagan Airport, which opened in 1941 and has become the
unofficial gateway to Washington for everyone from lobbyists to lawmakers.
The appropriations bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for
fiscal 2005 included a requirement that the agency complete a report for
Congress by March 1 on restoring access to Reagan Airport to private pilots.
Reagan Airport was closed to all planes for 22 days following the September
11 terrorist attacks. The Secret Service and other security agencies had
wanted the airport permanently closed.
When the federal government reopened the facility on Oct. 4, 2001, it
allowed a limited number of commercial flights to resume. Restrictions on
commercial flight weren't fully lifted until April 27, 2002.
But the moratorium on general aviation at the airport remained, and
criticism of the government's decision to leave it in place has grown
"I was told by the head of the Secret Service in 2002, I guess it was, that
by May we'll have that resolved. Now we've got a chicken-and-egg situation.
No, it's Secret Service. No, it's GSA. No, it's somebody else. Just do it.
Quit fumbling around with it," Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said
Tuesday at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing
on the TSA's budget request.
The TSA had plans to reopen Reagan Airport on May 30, 2002, but a new
national security threat emerged and plans were shelved.
Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House
Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee, said a plan should
have been in place by now to let private pilots use the airport.
"It's totally unreasonable that they haven't come up with a solution by
now," Mr. Mica said.
No one wants to be held accountable for restoring general aviation at the
airport if something goes wrong and a private plane is used to attack the
region, he said.
But measures can be put in place that give private pilots access to the
airport and ensure national security, said James Bennett, president and
chief executive of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which
operates Reagan and Washington Dulles International airports.
General aviation "belongs back at National Airport," Mr. Bennett said last
week in a conference room overlooking a runway at the airport. "There's no
reason it can't be done safely."
The number of flights into the airport is set by the federal government, and
airport officials can allow 12 general-aviation flights an hour to land
The absence of those flights has had a negative economic impact on the
Signature Flight Support Corp., an Orlando, Fla., company that provides
aviation services for private pilots, has seen operations at the airport
shrink from 55 employees to just one, and the company has lost an estimated
$10 million since the moratorium, company President and Chief Executive
Elizabeth Haskins said.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), which represents nearly
8,000 companies that operate aircraft, has worked with the TSA since its
inception in November 2001 on security measures for private planes that want
to fly into the airport. The certification plan has been used at three
business aviation airports outside New York " Teterboro, N.J., Morristown,
N.J., and White Plains, N.Y. " since February 2004.
David M. Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security for the TSA,
acknowledged in December that the procedures, developed with the NBAA,
improved aviation security because it allowed for background checks on
The voluntary program could work at Reagan Airport, too, NBAA President Ed
The TSA took a step toward loosening flight restrictions last week when it
agreed to make three small airports in the Washington region more accessible
The agency had closed College Park Airport, Potomac Airfield and Washington
Executive/Hyde Field, all in Maryland, to out-of-town pilots. Last week, it
said they could apply for security clearance to fly into Washington
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