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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America Recovers: Reagan National Airport Reopening Today

Aired October 4, 2001 - 06:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well speaking of traveling, travel gets back to perhaps 100 percent normal here in the States in one degree at least. Just about an hour from now, the very first flight is going to take off from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington and this is going to signal a return to the skies for flights from all U.S. airports, finally.

Our Kathleen Koch joins us now. She is standing by there at the airport this morning -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon.

Well, there is a real mood of celebration here at this airport this morning which is actually very different from what we saw in other airports around the country when they reopened just two days after the terrorist attacks. There was actually a hotel here passing out buttons a few minutes ago, Choice Hotels, to everyone who's traveling. It says thanks for traveling with a big U.S. flag on the button.

The reason the mood is so very different here is that this airport's very existence was threatened, was in question because of its very close proximity, of course, to the nation's capital, to vital federal buildings: the White House, the CIA, the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol dome itself. There were numerous organizations, the Secret Service, other national security organizations that really believed it needed to remain closed. However, as we know, President Bush on Tuesday was swayed by other arguments, arguments that this airport was really vital to this area's economy, pumping some $5.2 billion a year in business revenue into this area.

Another argument also being the very symbolic one that keeping this airport closed would send the wrong signal to the American public -- that the president is trying to really allay their fears that flying is not safe and tell them you can get back in the skies again.

And then third, of course, was the president's belief that this airport could be reopened safely.

Now when we entered today, there are big signs that advise every single traveler no more double carry-on bags. All you can carry is a single carry-on bag along with a purse or a briefcase.

Then there are other very intense security measures. One that we hear is that federal air marshals -- armed federal air marshals will be on each and every flight. There will be two security screenings for passengers boarding flights to and from National Airport, not just one. The approach and departure routes of all flights will be varied. The cockpit doors will be strengthened, and we will also see police and canine patrols that will be -- that will be patrolling every single secure section of this airport in order to guarantee that there is no way that any perpetrator, that any weapons can get into this area.

Now, Leon, as you said, the very first flight is due out at 7:00 a.m. this morning. It's a U.S. Airways shuttle to New York City and on it will be a number of VIPs, including governor -- Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore who's with us this morning.

Governor, tell us about this flight and how symbolically important it is today.

JIM GILMORE, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA: Well, it is important. It's important to the 10,000 working men and women who are here at this airport to serve the traveling public. It's important to the economy of the entire community, the 70,000 other people that rely upon the traveling public. But most importantly, it is a symbol of America. This country is strong, it's confident. We can -- we can take control of the situation. We're not going to allow enemy criminals to drive us away from our activities as free Americans.

KOCH: Governor, have you seen more intense security yourself? I know you use this airport quite a bit personally, is it different this morning?

GILMORE: It is different, of course. There's additional security and there's going to be additional security. A lot of effort is being made. You can't stop all criminal conspiracies all the time, but you -- but Americans have to recognize that we have to minimize the risks, increase security, make it safe and then move ahead as free people.

KOCH: Governor, at this point this airport is opening operational just about one-seventh the normal number of flights. It'll be getting up to about 57 percent in 45 days, but will it ever get back up to where it was 792 flights a day? I mean that's -- this airport needs all those flights to pay for this beautiful terminal.

GILMORE: Well, it's a beautiful terminal and it's a wonderful facility both for the nation's capital but also, of course, for my state. It's actually located in Virginia. But sure, these flights are going to continue to go up because the public's going to demand these additional flights and they should. This is the best way to have shuttles across the Eastern part of the United States so that we can get people moving between the major places like New York and Boston and Washington.

KOCH: Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, thanks for joining us.

And, Leon, we will be carrying that first flight out of here live at 7:00 a.m. so everyone stay tuned. We'll be here. LEON: All right, good deal, Kathleen. That's right, our Bruce Morton's going to be on that plane.

Thanks, Kathleen Koch, there at Reagan Washington National Airport. We thank you.

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