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FAA allows flights diverted Tuesday to resume; all other planes remain grounded

© Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Airline flights diverted after Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were authorized to finish their journeys Wednesday but all other planes remain grounded.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said that only passengers on the original flights could reboard and only after new security measures were put in place. Airlines also can move empty airplanes, Mineta said.

"Safety is always of paramount importance, and in these extraordinary times we intend to be vigilant," Mineta said. "We remain committed to resuming commercial flights as soon as possible.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said they did not know when other flights would be allowed to resume.

The reopened airports will have several new security procedures in place, including:

  • Thorough searches of all planes and airports
  • No curbside check-ins, nor check-ins at hotels and other off-airport sites.
  • Allowing only passengers to pass through security checkpoints to gates.

"I know all Americans want us to move as quickly and prudently as possible to return our transportation system to normal," Mineta said, "and we will as soon as we can do so safely."

The aviation shutdown ordered Tuesday was the first in the nation's history.

Around the country, horrified would-be passengers watched Tuesday's drama unfold on airport television screens.

"It's absolutely stunning. I think it's an act of war," said June Locacio, 58, standing at a bar at Lambert Airport in St. Louis.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, long lines developed at pay phones to call friends and family.

"Someone is trying to make a serious statement, and I hope we do likewise," said Scott Gilmore, 55, who had planned a trip to Washington before all flights were canceled.

The FAA also increased airport security after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.

But a series of reports by Congress' General Accounting Office and the Transportation Department's inspector general found that plenty of holes remained in the aviation security net.

The GAO and inspector general found problems with low-paid airport security screeners, who must check passengers and carryon baggage, and with equipment designed to detect bombs in luggage.

"Serious vulnerabilities in our aviation security system exist and must be adequately addressed," the GAO warned in April 2000.

Inspector General Kenneth Mead reported in January that the FAA needed to improve training for airport security screeners and increase the use of bomb-detection machines. The inspector general's office said last year that airport operators and airlines often did not conduct required background checks of employees.

Mary Schiavo, a former DOT inspector general who has been warning of lax airport security for a decade, told The Seattle Times that Tuesday's coordinated attack of four flights scheduled to take off within 36 minutes of each other was "without a doubt an inside job" by terrorists who infiltrated airport security companies.

The inspector general's office announced in August that it would assess what the Federal Aviation Administration was doing to make sure airlines were thoroughly screening passengers and their baggage.

FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said the agency would be issuing new standards for training screeners.

Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, said Tuesday he has been "concerned that we do not have in place the adequate emphasis on the right type of security nor the deployment of the right type of equipment."

"We've seen that a determined terrorist isn't going to be stopped by a metal detector and a couple of quick questions about who packed their luggage," said Mica, R-Fla. "We've got to do things that have effective results."

FAA officials said they would be reviewing security procedures, but they would not go into details.

The GAO also reported in June 2000 that airport screeners had missed as many as 20 percent of dangerous objects during tests. The agency blamed the problem on high turnover, low pay and inadequate training of staff.

There have been plenty of earlier warnings about problems with airline security. Two commissions, one formed after the terror attack on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and one after the crash of TWA 800 off Long Island, N.Y., made a series of recommendations to improve airline security. Several suggestions never were followed.

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