WASHINGTON – Some members of Congress love the idea of reopening Reagan National Airport because of its proximity to the Capitol, but not everybody loves the idea of allowing general aviation into the airport.
Still others are exasperated by the way in which transportation safety officials are setting the rules for arrival.
"I do believe that this committee ought to know what they're planning to do because if they carry out what it looks like what they got out there right now, it will kill general aviation," Sen. Ted Stevens (search), R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation, said Thursday in a hearing on the rules.
Stevens said the proposed rules on private aircraft and pilots by the Transportation Security Administration, which include prescreening at one of a dozen airports and a law enforcement officer put on board each flight, are too onerous.
Private planes have not been permitted at the airport since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Reagan airport is less than five miles from the White House and other potential targets.
Stevens argued that all the efforts to protect airlines since then have created a monstrous bureaucracy with a huge debt. He said it also neglects other security matters.
"There are people driving trucks and cars through this city and somehow or the other, we get just spastic over the fact someone might fly an airplane in here because of what happened on 9/11," he said.
Andrew Cebula, vice president of the Airline Owners and Pilots Association, which represents 400,000 pilots, cited a report by the Government Accountability Office to support his position that the risk posed by private planes is more hype than reality.
"In November 2004, the GAO did a report on general aviation security and said that the small size, lack of fuel capacity and minimal destructive power of most general aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists and thereby reduce the possibility of threat associated with their misuse," Cebula testified.
That position was challenged repeatedly by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search), D-W.Va., the ranking minority member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said private planes may not carry a lot of cargo, but for a terrorist that doesn't really matter.
"I just wonder what your view of 500 pounds of plastic explosives means? What's your view of 500 pounds of biological weapons, which, after all, you can shut down a coast in a day if you belt yourself with small pox. It hasn't happened, doesn't mean it won't," Rockefeller said.
Though the reopening of Reagan National to private planes is a foregone conclusion, the controversy has not ended. Once TSA finalizes its rules for private planes into the airport, it will offer a public comment period. As one TSA official said, members of Congress are taking every opportunity to make their opinions known.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Catherine Herridge.