WASHINGTON – Next to a locked-down newsstand, where racks of Sept. 11 newspapers should have been replaced long ago, officials gathered at Reagan National Airport Wednesday in a plea to reopen the airport.
Reagan is the only one of the nation’s commercial airports to remain closed more than two weeks after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon sparked a federally mandated, nationwide shutdown of all airports in the country.
The airport’s proximity to the White House, Capitol Hill and other government sites has made its closing indefinite, and put the decision to reopen in the hands of the National Security Council and the Secret Service, said Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda. She and other officials from Maryland, the District and Virginia called Wednesday for a return to full operations.
“Reagan National Airport is a linchpin,” Morella said. “Now we have to get the National Security Council and the Secret Service to see it that way.”
Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan said Reagan should be reopened as “an international model of safe and secure aviation,” as he stood in the airport’s vast, and nearly empty, halls.
Over 10,000 airline employees are directly affected by the shutdown, with a $5 billion revenue loss annually, Morella said. Additionally, hospitality and travel industries are all experiencing a pinch from the lack of travel in the area.
Members of Congress are waiting to see if the Bush administration will make any moves toward an opening, but they threatened legislation to reopen if there is not a “significant commitment” by next week, said Rep. James Moran, D- Va.
Maryland officials “strongly support the need of three airports in the region,” said Beverley Swain-Staley, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Transportation and the acting executive director for Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
Business was “pretty much back to normal” at BWI, said spokeswoman Melanie Miller. An expansion project begun this year will help in the short-term, but it will not be enough to absorb passengers from Reagan airport permanently, Miller said.
BWI officials have no way of knowing which of their current passengers were rerouted from Reagan airport. Those two airports, along with Washington Dulles International Airport, supported the most air passengers in the nation, Swain-Staley said.
But 20 million passengers a year fly in and out of BWI already, and it cannot handle the 15 million that usually fly through Reagan, even if that number is split with nearby Dulles, Miller said.
“It was a good working relationship,” Miller said.
Morella also called for the reopening of Montgomery County Airpark. That facility is just 18 nautical miles from the capital, putting it well within the current no-fly zone of 25 nautical miles.
Morella said close to 70 of the airpark’s 81 employees are on furlough as a result.