The U.S. government has re-opened the country's civil aviation system with increased security, two days after hijacked airliners were used in terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
The pace of air transportation may slow as a result of the new security measures. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta swiftly halted all U.S. civil air transportation Tuesday, after hijacked airliners crashed into New York's World Trade Center towers and the U.S. Defense Department. Air traffic controllers immediately guided about 2,100 flights that were in the air at the time to the nearest airports.
Now, Mr. Mineta says the re-opening of national airspace to commercial and private flights is good news for the economy.
But, he warns that civil aviation cannot be returned to normal instantly. In an effort to forestall further terrorist airline hijackings, he says, airports will resume business and flights scheduled on a case-by-case basis, only after tough new security precautions are met. "We experienced an unprecedented assault on our commercial aviation system," the secretary said. "In times such as these, we will use all available resources to ensure the safety of our travelers. From this day forward, we are operating with tightened security."
The new rules require airport terminals to be cleared of people and thoroughly searched before re-opening. Check-ins can occur only inside terminals, not at curbside, or away from airports, as before. Only passengers with valid tickets may pass through security checkpoints, and before they board, aircraft will be searched. No knives or any other cutting devices will be allowed in boarding areas, or aircraft.
Secretary Mineta says the Transportation Department will deploy uniformed federal officers from the Treasury and Justice Departments to airports nationwide. They will include immigration and border patrol agents. "The added presence of these officers will augment our existing heightened security procedures, serving as a visible reminder of our strong commitment to protect the safety of the American people and the traveling public," Mr. Mineta said.
In addition, Mr. Mineta has asked defense officials to provide elite U.S. army anti-terrorist troops, known as Delta forces, to supplement the federal agents, and possibly assist the corps of air marshals - armed officials who board selected aircraft.
His department is reviewing every security procedure in the entire civil aviation system. For the longer term, Mr. Mineta is considering whether to federalize the airport employees, who screen passengers and carry-on baggage. "We will not allow this enemy to win the war by restricting our freedom of mobility," the transportation secretary said.
A Transportation Department spokeswoman said the tightened security measures are sure to affect flight schedules. Secretary Mineta urged passengers to be patient with them, and to allow extra time at the airport before flights are scheduled to depart.