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Government allows most private planes to resume flying

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times Online,
September 14, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials on Friday reopened the skies to most private planes, which had been grounded with commercial airlines following terrorist attacks against the United States.

This decision affects some 200,000 private aircraft. Under the arrangements the government announced, general aviation pilots must file flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration and be directed by air traffic controllers. Private planes are still banned from the skies within 25 nautical miles of Washington, D.C., and New York City, where Tuesday's attacks occurred.

The mid-afternoon development came as some -- but not many -- jetliners roamed the skies carrying small numbers of edgy travelers as the government restored limited jetliner service after the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

Private planes that fly in and out of airports that do not have air traffic control towers will remain grounded. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said he hoped to allow those planes to start flying again over the weekend.

Planes at airports without controllers can be evacuated in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama because of the approach of Tropical Storm Gabrielle, Mineta said.

In Boston, a few passengers showed up Friday morning with luggage at the still-closed Logan Airport after several airlines erroneously told passengers their flights would be leaving. Airport officials called the airlines and instructed them to tell passengers not to show up at Logan until the airport officially opened.

Logan was where terrorists boarded two jets that were hijacked Tuesday and crashed into the World Trade Center.

At Los Angeles International Airport, people waited for hours in lines snaking through terminals. Eric and Christina Oliger, returning from a Hawaii honeymoon, stood in a long line hoping for a flight to Nashville, Tenn., even though their tickets were for Saturday.

"We don't want to go through this again tomorrow," Christina Oliger said. "We are just trying to get back."

Despite the delays and other problems, people waiting in a food court at Portland International in Oregon cheered as the first jet departed.

"People in this country have a hang-up about having their personal space invaded. But when you're in this situation, you have to sacrifice some of your individuality," said Kevin McArthur, a business consultant waiting at Denver International Airport for a flight to Chicago.

The New York area's three major airports -- Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark International -- had some landings on Thursday but then abruptly closed as the FBI detained at least 10 people of Middle Eastern decent for questioning. They were later cleared of any connection with the attack, authorities said, and the airports were reopened before noon Friday.

Washington's Reagan National Airport remained closed indefinitely. Washington-Dulles International Airport, the origin of the hijacked flight that hit the Pentagon, reopened on a limited schedule.

Officials at airports across the country said it could be late next week before commercial service is fully restored. Chances of getting a flight out of the nation's smaller airports remained slim Friday, and private flights were still banned.

Across the nation, travelers were met with long lines and delays.

Philadelphia International Airport was at half of normal operations Friday morning.

"We hope that stays for the rest of the day or gets better," airport spokesman Mark Pesce said. "It changes from moment to moment."

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, about 25 cots were set up with pillows, and some people were still sleeping at 8:50 a.m.

Before flights could begin operating, airports were required to implement new security measures, including banning curbside check-in and limiting access to ticketed passengers beyond security screening points.

Armed agents from the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs were deployed at airport security checkpoints across the country.

"This is the kind of security you expect to see diplomats get before they board an airplane," said Michael Cheston, executive director of the Rhode Island Airport Corp. "That's what we're doing for the average citizen now. That's going to slow down everything."

On Thursday, Orlando International and a terminal at LaGuardia were briefly evacuated over separate, unfounded bomb scares.

And after briefly resuming limited service, Northwest Airlines canceled all flights Thursday evening amid security concerns.

"External information has come to our attention which indicated that it is not prudent to operate this evening," said Mary Beth Schubert, a Northwest spokeswoman. No other details were released.

But by 6 a.m. Friday, a few Northwest jets were back in the air.

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