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Government moves to increase aviation security, Bush reopens Reagan National Airport

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tough new security is needed at airports and on planes across the nation, government advisory panels said Tuesday. President Bush announced the reopening of close-in Reagan National Airport and declared, ``America ought to be on alert, but we need to get back to business.''

The airport, which juts into the Potomac River a short distance from the White House and other major Washington landmarks, is the last commercial airport still closed after the terrorist hijacking attacks three weeks ago.

The airport will reopen Thursday with shuttle flights to New York and Boston. Gradually, flights to other major American cities will be resumed, but traffic will be cut roughly in half from before the attacks, and planes will follow new flight patterns.

``We got struck hard on Sept. 11, all of us know that. But you can't strike the American spirit,'' Bush said inside the airport's main passenger terminal. ``By opening this airport, we're making yet another statement to the terrorists: 'You can't win.'''

Efforts to improve airline and airport safety proceeded on several fronts.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta received recommendations from two task forces, on airline and airport security.

Among the recommendations: stronger cockpit doors within 30 days and new security training for pilots, flight attendants and other crew members within six months. A copy of the airliner security report was obtained by The Associated Press.

United, the nation's No. 2 airline, said it would immediately begin installing steel bars on its planes' cockpit doors, and other airlines were considering new security measures, too.

The task force on airport security was proposing a new federal agency to handle the job, according to people familiar with that group's report. Representatives of aviation unions and the airline industry served on both task forces.

The airplane task force recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration, the airline industry and pilot unions come up with procedures that could help thwart a hijacking, such as depressurizing the cabin or making a rapid descent.

In addition, the government and industry should take steps to ensure an airplane will continuously transmit a signal if hijacked, the task force said.

Meanwhile, some Democratic senators voiced support for federalizing airport inspectors who screen passengers and luggage. The lawmakers hope to make that part of legislation later in the week.

``It is time to end the subcontracting out of this country's national security,'' said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore

The Bush administration has proposed putting the federal government in charge of qualifying and training _ but keeping the current system under which airports hire private employees.

``We will work with them,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said of the differing versions. The administration's bill would also increase the number of air marshals in planes, fortify cockpit doors and deploy the National Guard at airports.

Passengers would pay an extra fee, up to $2.50 a ticket, to help pay.

With passenger traffic down, lawmakers earlier passed a $15 billion relief package to help the ailing airline industry.

Hijackers armed with knives and box cutters took control of four commercial aircraft on Sept. 11, slamming two into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and a third into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. The attacks left more than 5,000 dead and missing.

In his remarks at Reagan National, Bush said, ``This is the airport that brings our nation's leaders to Washington to do the people's business. It's the airport that welcomes millions of tourists to our nation's capital. We want the tourists coming back to see our great monuments.''

In addition to the Boston and New York shuttle flights, limited service will soon resume to and from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis, Newark and Pittsburgh. Later, flights would be allowed to an additional 10 cities yet to be determined.

The airport's past flight paths followed the Potomac River, bringing planes close to CIA headquarters, the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon. Now flights will cross some residential areas and will be varied.

All passengers will have to go through two security checkpoints and will be limited to one carryon bag.

Cockpit doors will be bolted, and armed air marshals will be aboard all flights in and out of the airport, said Rep. James Moran, D-Va., whose district includes the airport.

The airport, located in Arlington on the Virginia side of the Potomac, is a major source of jobs in the Washington area. It has long been a favorite of lawmakers returning to their districts each weekend.
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