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General Aviation, Trucking Industries See Tighter Security - 2001-09-30

Heightened U.S. security restrictions in the air and on the roads have led to the grounding of some private aircraft and delays for U.S. truckers. While some restrictions are now being eased, others are being tightened.

After the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington using hijacked jetliners, all U.S. air traffic was immediately grounded. Within days, commercial flights were restored under tightened security. But so-called "general aviation" remained restricted. This included small private planes and business aircraft.

As those restrictions were being loosened, federal officials last week again barred flights by crop-dusters - small airplanes that spread chemicals, such as pesticides, on farms. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said one of the hijackers who died in the World Trade Center attack was collecting information on crop-dusting. Federal investigators say other terrorists could be planning an airborne attack using chemical or biological agents. Tuesday, however, the nation's 5,000 crop dusters were allowed to fly again, under closer supervision.

Today, restrictions remain on private aircraft that are operating under procedures known as "visual flight rules." They cannot fly within 40 kilometers of most large cities. If pilots are flying under "instrument control," they must first file a flight plan, and only then can they enter air space near big cities. Officials note those aircraft are under the supervision of air-traffic controllers.

In Los Angeles, radio traffic reports from airborne reporters is essential for motorists who are making their daily commute on the city's busy highways.

Airborne reporter Chuck Street complains about current restrictions, which force him to fly along a pre-determined flight path that restricts his ability to give a first-hand account of the traffic situation. "We're getting information from the Highway Patrol dispatch center, just limited information," he said. "We're not able to check on it. We're not able to find where the backups are, and most important, we're not able to suggest alternate routes to people on the freeways."

On the ground, U.S. truckers who carry hazardous cargo are also facing added scrutiny. Wednesday, U.S. Law enforcement officials arrested 10 Middle Eastern men in Michigan, Missouri, and Washington State. They are accused of fraudulently obtaining licenses to transport hazardous materials. The license allows truck drivers to haul gasoline, chemicals or other substances that are dangerous or explosive.

Police departments around the country are checking on truck cargoes, and trucks entering the country from Canada or Mexico face thorough inspections.

California truck driver Sanford Frasier approves of the tighter security, and says trucking regulations regarding hazardous substances have not been strict enough. "The system works, sometimes, but there are more loopholes than what there need to be," he said. "That needs to change."

California officials are also increasing security at the state's dams and aqueducts, at nuclear power plants and along power transmission lines.

Officials at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles have banned backpacks and large containers at baseball games. And at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, intense security measures are being implemented for a major college football game scheduled for January 3. Similar precautions are being taken at other sites around the country.