US Reopens Airspace After Terror Attacks
The US is fully reopening its airspace under tough new anti-terrorism rules Thursday after an unprecedented shutdown, authorities said.
Flights, banned since hijackers drove fuel-laden passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Tuesday, will resume at 11:00 am (1500 GMT), said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
But the colossal task of switching back on the US civil air transport system, which carries 1.6 million people on a normal day with 36,000 to 40,000 departures, would take time, he said.
Airlines – many of which have aircraft parked in the wrong airports following the emergency national grounding -- said they were resuming diverted flights first.
It would take days to recover full scheduled operations, they warned. Diverted flights had already been allowed to move the previous day under a limited re-opening.
"We will reopen airports and resume flights on a case-by-case basis, only after they implement our more stringent levels of security," the US transport chief said.
The new rules, many kept under wraps for security reasons, include:
-- A total ban on passengers carrying aboard any cutting implements such as scissors or knives of any material or size. The terrorists used knives, not guns, in their attacks. Previously, only knives with blades longer than 10 centimeters were barred.
-- A thorough search and security check of all airplanes and airports before passengers are allowed to enter and board aircraft.
- A discontinuation of baggage check-ins at any place besides the airport ticket counters.
- A discontinuation of off-airport check-in.
- A reservation of boarding areas for passengers only. Only ticketed passengers will be allowed to proceed past airport screeners to catch their flights.
"The re-opening of our national airspace is good news for travelers, for the airlines and for our economy," Mineta said.
"But I must caution everyone that a system as diverse and complex as ours cannot be brought back up instantly."
US airspace was closed at 1325 GMT Tuesday for the first time in US history.
The action was taken as hijackers took over four aircraft with a total 266 people aboard and used them in suicide missions against the US, destroying the World Trade Center and punching a hole in the Pentagon.
Thousands of people are feared to have perished.
Mineta had planned to resume flights 23 hours earlier.
But the plan was scrapped following intelligence from the FBI and other agencies and after a National Security Council meeting chaired by President George W. Bush.
The American Airlines group, the world's biggest airline, said it would resume limited scheduled American Airlines, American Eagle and TWA flights no sooner than 2000 GMT.
"We expect the return of our full schedule of service to take several days," the airline said in a statement.
United Airlines confirmed in a statement that two diverted international flights had completed their trips in the morning but scheduled operations would not begin before 2300 GMT.
Delta Airlines said it would run "very limited" operations after 1600 GMT, with the priority on completing diverted flights, including some inbound flights that halted in Canada.
"We expect the return our full schedule of service to take a number of days," it added.
Airlines were implementing special rules allowing people to get new tickets, reschedule flights or change to new destinations. American Airlines also offered passengers the option of refunds – WASHINGTON (AFP)
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