By Jonathan D. Salant
WASHINGTON – Federal officials on Friday reopened the skies to most private planes, which had been grounded with commercial airlines following terrorist attacks against the United States.
This decision affects some 200,000 private aircraft. Under the arrangements the government announced, general aviation pilots must file flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration and be directed by air traffic controllers. Private planes are still banned from the skies within 25 nautical miles of Washington, D.C., and New York City, where Tuesday’s attacks occurred.
The mid-afternoon development came as some – but not many – jetliners roamed the skies carrying small numbers of edgy travelers as the government restored limited jetliner service after the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
Private planes that fly in and out of airports that do not have air traffic control towers will remain grounded. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said he hoped to allow those planes to start flying again over the weekend.
Planes at airports without controllers can be evacuated in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama because of the approach of Tropical Storm Gabrielle, Mineta said.
“We are restoring the national airspace system in a phased manner, after careful evaluation of the safety and security issues in each sector,” Mineta said. “Please remember that we are recovering from a massive disruption and widespread shock. But very soon we will work our way back to full recovery.”
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