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FAA lifts most general aviation restrictions

By Beth Lewandowski

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration lifted restrictions in place since September 11 on general aviation flights in 30 major metropolitan areas Wednesday.

That means pilots of private planes, news and traffic helicopters, banner towers, blimps and commercial sight-seeing aircraft who fly according to visual flight rules can get back in the air virtually everywhere.

That includes Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami and Atlanta.

The previous ban allowed planes to fly only according to instrument rated rules, flights that could be tracked by air traffic controllers.

The restrictions were set to expire under provisions of the recently passed aviation security legislation.

Temporary flight restrictions will still be imposed for instance over sporting events, nuclear facilities and other restricted space, the FAA said.

The FAA also said restrictions around specific areas in Washington, New York and Boston will also remain.

In Washington, for example, flights within a 15-mile area will be still off limits, keeping three airports closed, including the nation's oldest in College Park, Maryland, Potomac Airfield in Fort Washington, Maryland, and Washington Executive Airport in Clinton, Maryland.

An FAA official said the administration was working with national security agencies to try to open the airports but could not say when that might happen.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta welcomed the news. "Today's action will allow most general aviation flights to resume their pre-September 11 service," he said.

"This reinforces our commitment to getting America back to business while maintaining the highest standards of safety and security," Mineta said.

At nearby Freeway Airport in Mitchellville, Maryland, owner Stanley Rodenhauser was not as optimistic.

He's been living without a paycheck since shortly after September 11. He has taken out home equity loans to keep his airport from going bankrupt and has tapped all his reserves.

"It's going to be a long, hard haul, it really is. General aviation has been damaged, and it will take a long time to get the planes back again," he told CNN.

"Even though we are open, its going to be a struggle for the airports to make it," he said, noting January, February, and March are typically the slowest months for his airport and many others.

The Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee recently passed a bill to provide small airport owners such as Rodenhauser with disaster fund assistance to help them recover from the three months of business they missed.


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