The Near Death of Reagan National Airport After 9/11

Friday, September 10, 2010 - 03:00 PM

(Washington, DC - David Schultz, WAMU News) This week on WAMU, we aired a story about the closure of Reagan National Airport after the 9/11 attacks.

Some background: all U.S. airports shut down the day of the attacks. All but one reopened a few days later. That one was Washington D.C.'s Reagan National, which stayed closed for three more weeks.

In the terrifying days and weeks following 9/11, it didn't require much of a leap to imagine Reagan National - located just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House - being used as a launching pad for terrorism. So the Bush Administration, acting at the behest of the Secret Service, shut it down indefinitely.

For the details on what happened next,

listen to the aforementioned story on WAMU. (Spoiler alert: the airport eventually reopened.) But suffice it to say, the shuttering of Reagan National didn't go over well with local lawmakers in the D.C. region and they waged an all-out political battle to force the Bush Administration to reconsider.

The lawmakers - Republicans and Democrats, from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. - used a litany of arguments in favor of reopening the airport. One of the more interesting ones, which we didn't have time to get into in our story, was that Reagan National's proximity to the White House and the Capitol actually make it less susceptible to terrorism.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the Congressman who represents the area around the airport and was intimately involved in the effort to reopen it back in 2001, laid this out for me: from a logistical standpoint, it would actually be very difficult to hijack a plane departing from Reagan National and crash it into the White House or the Capitol. By the time a potential terrorist actually commandeered the plane and oriented his or herself, Moran said, it would probably be well outside Washington D.C. airspace by then.

I have no idea whether this argument is valid. And, as our story on WAMU shows, it didn't carry much weight with the Bush Administration back then. (Also, the argument doesn't take into account planes arriving at Reagan National.)

But it is interesting to think about. By this logic, perhaps we should locate all airports as close as possible to the most security-sensitive sites.

Lincoln Memorial Airport, anyone? How about NORAD Field? Or, how about a new LAX - Los Alamos International?


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