President George W. Bush announced Monday that flights will resume from Ronald Reagan National Airport Thursday. This news comes as a relief to thousands of misplaced airport and airline workers and area businesses deeply wounded by the three-week shutdown of the District’s closest airport. Travelers, too, are elated that flights will resume, even if only on a limited basis. Reopening National is the right thing to do for the region’s economy and the symbolism the airport has taken on since its closure Sept. 11 in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
President Bush is right to balance security concerns with the very real needs of area residents and businesses that have come to depend upon National over the years.
National Airport’s close proximity to obvious terrorist targets such as the White House, Capitol, Pentagon and world-famous monuments poses a difficult problem for the people charged with preventing future terrorist strikes. The easiest security solution is to keep the airport closed and not allow any aircraft to fly over the target-rich District. But that solution ignores the vital role National plays in the economic life of the metro area.
Instituting security measures like increased identification checks, limited carry-on luggage, more security patrols, random searches and federal air marshals on every flight is a strategy that makes National arguably the safest and most secure airport in the country. Buttressing the defenses against terrorists should always precede outright closure of important public buildings, lest the terrorists succeed in drastically altering Americans’ daily lives.
National airport also became a symbol when officials shut it down. Terrorists and other enemies of the United States could point to the airport as an indication that Americans are afraid, that the attacks succeeded in irrevocably disrupting American society. But by opening the airport again, Bush sent the signal that terrorists did not and cannot accomplish that goal. Security may be tighter, but Americans still board commercial aircraft and still fly to their destinations. The airline industry and passenger confidence will bounce back so long as the United States continues to take steps to return to normalcy. Reopening National is a much-needed step in that direction.