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An Airport, and a Symbol

As the United States moves forward to a new normalcy, security concerns remain paramount. Efforts to enhance the safety of tall buildings, water supplies, nuclear plants, manufacturing plants, airports, and other means of transportation abound.

Nowhere is the nation's continuing broad security threat more immediately visible than at Ronald Reagan National Airport just outside Washington.

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As the only US airport still closed as a result of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, it stands as a symbol of the disastrous aftereffects of terrorism. But like efforts to rebuild the Pentagon and lower Manhattan, National can also become a symbol of the nation's resolve to overcome terrorism.

For now, the airport's gleaming terminal, renovated at a cost of $1 billion, is eerily empty. Its interrupted air service means 45,000 passengers a day no longer fly in or out. The direct impact on the capital's economy is enormous. Regional losses from National's jetways staying shut are estimated at $4 billion a year.

National's proximity to Capitol Hill and other government buildings make it a focal point of security concern. Any decision to reopen it will likely entail safety measures that go beyond what's being required of other airports around the country. For instance, the president's standing order to shoot down any planes that threaten US cities means little or no warning ahead of time in the case of National. Flights may be able to take off and land in one direction only, limiting the airport's economic viability. Those are tough trade-offs. But with armed officers on flights, more-secure cockpit doors, flight patterns adjusted for security, and stringent safety precautions on the ground, safe operation of National should be possible.

Virginia's governor, the mayor of the District of Columbia, and dozens of inconvenienced members of Congress are clamoring to reopen National. President Bush is said to be looking into the possibility. A reopened Reagan National Airport would send a message to the world that the US will not allow the terrorists even a single victory.