WASHINGTON – Private aviation returned to Reagan Washington National Airport (search) Tuesday, more than four years after restrictions were imposed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The first aircraft arrived at the airport across the Potomac River in Arlington, Va., from Teterboro Airport (search) in New Jersey about 7 a.m. EDT and taxied through a water arch formed by two fire trucks.
The flight was permitted after the Transportation Security Administration introduced rigorous new rules which require passengers and crew members to undergo background checks.
A certified armed security officer also must accompany each flight, and some trips require a federal sky marshal. Flights also have to land first at one of 12 gateway airports.
"This is a first step," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. "There are still a ton of regulations."
Reagan National's location is sensitive to security officials because the airport's runways carry planes near the White House (search), Capitol and Pentagon.
Commercial airline flights at the airport resumed about a month after Sept. 11 (search), though it took incessant lobbying by local officials and business leaders — as well as congressional intervention — to persuade federal authorities the airport was safe for general aviation.
"To close Reagan down to general aviation sends the wrong signal," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.
But some people oppose opening the airport to private planes. They argue that it will be harder to differentiate planes that have permission to fly within the restricted airspace over Washington from those that don't have permission.
Pilots have strayed hundreds of times since the government restricted airspace over the capital just before the start of the Iraq war in 2003. In many cases, fighter jets, which are prepared to shoot down a plane, have escorted an errant plane to an airport.
Until Tuesday, most private flights were diverted to Manassas Regional Airport, about 30 miles southwest of Reagan National.