FAA order closes airport near nuke plant

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FAA order closes airport near plant

A national terrorism alert closes Crystal River Airport until Nov. 7 because of its proximity to the nuclear reactor. By ALEX LEARY

St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2001

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A national terrorism alert closes Crystal River Airport until Nov. 7 because of its proximity to the nuclear reactor. CRYSTAL RIVER -- A day after Attorney General John Ashcroft warned new terrorist attacks were imminent, the government on Tuesday prohibited all general aviation within 11.5 miles of nuclear power plants.

The action by the Federal Aviation Administration, effective until Nov. 7, shut down Crystal River Airport, not far from Florida Power's nuclear reactor on U.S. 19.

"It's not going to kill us but it's a definite financial hardship," Gudi Davis, one of the airport's operators, said moments after receiving orders to suspend all takeoffs and landings.

"We've never seen anything like this," she said. "We've always felt safe."

About 20 planes fly out of Crystal River each day. The airport caters mainly to small charter operations and flight trainers.

The FAA cited Monday's security alert but did not elaborate. Florida Power spokesman Mac Harris said he was unaware of specific threats to the Crystal River plant.

The restrictions, which do not include commercial jetliners, which fly higher than 18,000 feet, extend to 86 nuclear sites nationwide, including Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

Two other power plants in Florida were named: St. Lucie, outside Fort Pierce; and Turkey Point, 25 miles south of Miami.

Emergency and law enforcement aircraft are exempt, but no private planes can enter the airspace, FAA spokesman Christopher White said.

That includes planes that might want to depart Crystal River and fly outside the restricted zone, he said.

White said there is no connection between Tuesday's ban and the plane that was forced down over Crystal River last week after flying near the nuclear plant.

The small plane, a Piper Arrow, was brought down by two F-16s but suspects in a marijuana smuggling case, not terrorists, were aboard.

Last week, the FAA issued a notice urging all pilots to stay away from energy plants, dams, reservoirs and other sensitive areas.

On Tuesday, that warning, as it pertains to nuclear sites, became an order.

The Maryland-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reported that the FAA restriction effectively closed 126 public-use landing facilities. The association, which represents 375,000 people, offered a measured response to the FAA edict.

"We obviously have to be very cognizant of national security concerns," spokesman Warren Morningstar said.

"We also recognize there are people out there who have legitimate needs to use their aircraft. One might have a hard time understanding how a small aircraft presents a threat to a hardened nuclear facility."

Florida Power officials in Crystal River have said the reactor is contained by 4-foot-thick concrete walls, suggesting it could withstand the impact of a plane much larger than the Cessnas that typically fly from the nearby airport.

-- Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 31, 2001

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