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Passengers wait for instructions at quiet airport

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001

Passengers at Pittsburgh International Airport this morning braced for another day of uncertainty after the Federal Aviation Administration lifted restrictions on air travel.

'I'm losing my mind,' said Raul Mansanilla, 41, who was hoping to fly to Dallas today to catch a connecting flight to Caracas, Venezuela. 'The airport people don't know anything.'

The FAA announced the skies would reopen to commercial air traffic at 11 a.m. A handful of passengers this morning - some in their third day of waiting - watched airport employees prepare and adjust to new security measures at the eerily quiet Pittsburgh airport.

'I must caution everyone that a system as diverse and complex as ours cannot be brought back up instantly. We will reopen airports and resume flights on a case-by-case basis, only after they implement our more stringent levels of security,' U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a statement. 'This phased approach will assure the highest levels of safety, which remains our primary goal.'

The FAA grounded commercial flights Tuesday morning after terrorists slammed two passenger planes into the World Trade Center in New York and a third into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

A fourth plane crashed in rural Somerset County. Investigators speculate that passengers tried to overtake the hijackers so the plane couldn't be used to hit another target in Washington.

The FAA announcement was little consolation to Mary Kaluza of Jacksonville, Fla. She was contemplating taking a train home after becoming stranded in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

'I hardly think I'm going anywhere today,' Kaluza said. 'But I'm here. If they say they're going to start flying, I'm ready.'

At the airport entrance, Allegheny County police blocked the access road to the short-term parking garage and the curbside dropoff to comply with the new FAA regulations banning vehicles within 300 feet of the garage. Only employees were allowed past the security checkpoint.

Airport officials announced Wednesday the 2,100-space short-term parking garage would be closed indefinitely to comply with new FAA security regulations.

Passengers are being advised to arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure to deal with the added security.

At the metal detectors inside the airport, tables had been set up with dozens of plastic bins for employees to deposit all items to be scanned in the metal detectors. A supervisor checking employee badges in the area declined comment.

The airport advised that passengers should check with their airline about their flight before coming to the airport.

When the airport fully reopens, only ticketed passengers with photo identification will be allowed past the metal detectors.

The FAA announced a limited reopening of commercial airspace yesterday to allow flights diverted from their destinations to resume travel. But industry officials said it could be several days before flights are operating on normal schedules.

Judy Helsel of Clearfield waited for a 1 p.m. shuttle to Downtown, where she would catch a bus home. She had scrapped plans for a trip to Dallas.

'I've only been here since noon' yesterday, Helsel said after a night of short catnaps at the airport. 'But it feels like I live here.'

Eric Thayrion had flown from Paris to Detroit, and then onto Pittsburgh on Monday night. What was first announced as a 30-minute delay on his Pittsburgh to Boston flight on Tuesday morning had now stretched into its third day.

'I'm not really nervous about flying,' Thayrion said. 'I just want to get to Boston.'

Dave Copeland can be reached at dcopeland@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7922.

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