Flying, Once More, Into Reagan

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The Department of Homeland Security is expected to announce tomorrow that Washington's Reagan National Airport will soon allow small private planes and other general aviation aircraft to land there as long as a law enforcement officer, who is authorized to use force if necessary, is on board.

Under pressure from members of Congress and corporate executives who wanted access to the convenient downtown airport, five sources in aviation and government say that David Stone, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, is planning to announce tomorrow that a limited number of carefully screened general aviation flights will be able to return to Reagan National in three months. The private aircraft, the government sources told, will be under the most rigorous security measures of any private aircraft anywhere in the US. Only 48 flights a day will be allowed into Washington and they will be able to come only from a dozen 'gateway' cities, where the crews and passengers will undergo enhanced security screening. In an extraordinary step, the planes—whether from private companies or chartered—will also have to a law enforcement officer on board.

Since 9/11, Reagan National has been the most restricted major airport in the country, with virtually no private jet flights allowed of any kind and with the most stringent security measures imposed on commercial flights in and out. Traveling in and out of Reagan, for example, airline passengers must remain in their seats within 30 minutes of take off and landing. Reagan has also been the site of two recent security scares when small propeller aircraft unintentionally entered the restricted airspace around Washington and were chased by military fighter jets. Both planes landed without incident.

But while Reagan National is the most secure airport in the nation, it is also one of the most convenient, located only five miles away from downtown Washington. It was, before Sept. 11, the favorite landing strip for corporate jets flying CEOS in to meet with policymakers. Since Sept. 11, those jets have been forced to use other airports such as Dulles International Airport, more than 20 miles west of downtown Washington.