President Bush has announced the reopening of Washington's downtown airport which was closed following last month's terrorist attacks. Reagan National Airport will start flights again on Thursday, making it the last U.S. airport to re-open after the attacks.
Security at Washington's airport will be "the most exacting in the nation" as a result of a series of new measures expanding the use of air marshals and limiting air traffic into and out of the nation's capital.
Air shuttle service to New York and Boston will resume Thursday. Then a limited number of flights to six other major transport hubs will start again over the next few weeks, gradually bringing air traffic up to about one quarter of the level before the attacks. Only commercial flights will be allowed and then only on smaller jets of 156 seats or less.
Departures at Reagan National will leave only from specially secured gates with flight crews who work only that route. Traffic will eventually be expanded to include flights to an additional 10 cities allowing for about 450 flights a day, down about one-third from the airport's previous traffic.
Reagan National is a major source of jobs and income for the Washington metropolitan area. Local legislators had been lobbying the administration heavily for its re-opening. At the airport Tuesday, President Bush thanked workers for their patience as the government puts in place measures to protect safety.
"We are doing the right thing," he said. "We have taken our time. We can assure the American public, as best as we can, that we are taking the necessary safety precautions. Now it's time to start flying again."
Flight approaches to the airport will be changed to keep aircraft away from most federal offices. There will be additional identification checks as passengers board the aircraft and expanded police and canine patrols of secure areas.
The President last week outlined a series of new measures to increase aviation security including more armed air marshals, stronger cockpit doors, and federal control over all passenger and baggage screening. Mr. Bush says the health of the airline industry is crucial to reviving America's economy. He is telling consumers it's safe to fly.
"Every person who gets on an airplane, who goes to work, who takes their family to visit relatives is taking a stand against terrorism," said the president. "You see, the terrorists, they want to intimidate America. The terrorists, by conducting their evil deeds, want our nation to stop. But they underestimated our spirit didn't they? They made a mistake."
The President and Congress have already agreed to a $15 billion aid package for U.S. airlines affected by the terrorist attacks. They are discussing an additional economic stimulus package that could include more tax cuts, a rise in the minimum wage, and unemployment benefits and health insurance for laid-off workers.