WASHINGTON – Maryland officials Tuesday welcomed the reopening of Reagan National Airport, a move that they said will head off potential problems at Baltimore/Washington International Airport while making National a model for air safety.
“Our position has always been that three airports are needed to meet the demand to fly,” said Amy Knight, a BWI spokeswoman who said that BWI, Reagan and Washington Dulles International Airport compose the fourth largest air service market in the nation.
Reagan is scheduled to resume operations Thursday, after nearly a month of grounded flights and rumors of permanent closure. It is the last commercial airport in the nation to return to business following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.
President Bush, who announced the reopening Tuesday news conference in Terminal C of the airport, said it was important to the region’s economy and to show terrorists that the Unites States will not live in fear.
“We will start a schedule of airplane flights that will reflect the new and tight security concerns that all Americans share,” Bush said.
The first phase of the reopening, effective Thursday, will allow resumption of US Airways and Delta shuttle flights to New York and Boston. Service to six other cities — Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis and Newark, N.J. — will begin as soon as enhanced security measures are in place.
The second phase, expected about three weeks later, provides for direct flights to 10 other, undetermined cities. Officials hope to ultimately achieve up to 57 percent of the amount of traffic scheduled at Reagan before Sept. 11.
Officials are hailing the enhanced security measures as the most thorough in the nation.
“I believe the airports will be updating their security, and National will be the model,” said Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda.
Enhanced security measures at Reagan will include a carry-on baggage limit of one bag and one personal item, such as a purse or briefcase; random check of passengers at the gate with a handheld metal detector; and a boarding time check of boarding passes against passengers’ identification.
Extra police and canine units will patrol the airport and plainclothes federal air marshals will board flights, although officials would not say if they would be on all flights.
All planes will arrive and depart using straight-line flight approaches, rather than following the Potomac River.
Employees and vehicles within the air operations area will be subjected to extra security examination, and flight crews must be dedicated to flying to Reagan airport only. Flights will arrive at Reagan only from pre-designated, specially secured gates at other airports.
Only commercial planes of 156 seats or less, from six airlines, will fly to and from Reagan. For now, all private flights within a 25-nautical-mile limit of Washington are banned, effectively grounding private flights at Reagan and Dulles.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., said he hopes the perimeter will change to allow private flights at Dulles, but he said Tuesday that the situation is “not the most pressing aviation security issue.”
But Morella said she spoke to the president Tuesday about reducing the perimeter to 18 nautical miles within the next 30 days so that private flights can resume at Dulles and Montgomery County Airpark.
In addition to US Airways and Delta, the reopened Reagan will be served by American, United, Northwest and Continental airlines.
The Reagan announcement comes the same week that the Federal Aviation Administration certified BWI to resume curbside baggage check-in, which had been banned immediately following the attacks. On Saturday, US Airways became the first airline to use curbside check-in at BWI, and American Airlines followed Monday.
Passengers on either airline at BWI can drive up to the curb and drop off their luggage, which helps to shorten lines and time spent at the airport.