U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport can return to full service on April 15.
The announcement was welcomed by Virginia Senator George Allen. “April 15 is better known for tax day but this year it will be much less taxing for people in our area and around the nation who rely on Reagan National Airport for access to our nation’s capitol region and to Northern Virginia,” Allen said. “Almost 16 million air travelers a year rely on Reagan National Airport for their travel needs, generating $5 billion a year. In addition, Reagan National employs more than ten thousand people directly, and more than 70 thousand other jobs in the Northern Virginia region are dependent upon the airport’s full operation. Reagan National Airport is absolutely essential to Virginia’s economy and an efficiently operating government in Washington, DC.”
The airport was closed from Sept. 11, until Oct. 4, and has slowly phased in flights. It is currently operating at approximately 77 percent of capacity, with 600 flights per day. Before Sept. 11, National served 69 cities and operated 800 flights a day.
“We are certainly pleased by Secretary Mineta’s announcement but will not be able to reach full capacity unless the Department of Transportation lifts the nighttime restrictions,” said Tara Hamilton, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “We don’t want any change in the noise restriction, just the ability to return to the same guidelines that were in place before Sept. 11.”
Currently no planes may land or take off from National between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Before Sept. 11, only airplanes that met the noise abatement standards were permitted to land and take off between those hours. There were about 20 scheduled flights between 10 p.m. and midnight and about 30 between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
“In addition to those scheduled flights, there is also the problem of connecting flights,” Hamilton said. “For example, if a flight connects in Chicago for National, and is scheduled to depart at 9:30 p.m., it is no longer possible for it to land at National. Even flights that are scheduled to land at National at 10 p.m. would not be permitted to land if bad weather or something else delays them. That is still a problem.”
Mineta said that returning National to full operation is a sign that America is recovering from the terrorist attacks. “The return of Reagan National Airport to pre-Sept. 11, totals is a major milestone in our nation’s recovery from the tragedy we experienced just six short months ago,” Mineta said. “The recovery of this airport attests to our nation’s resolve.”
Of the 69 cities that were served pre-Sept. 11, only 11 remain to be added. As airline schedules are updated in April, these cities may be added.