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Oly flight restrictions OK’d

Planes will be grounded during 2 S.L. ceremonies

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Federal officials have approved a plan that will ban any flights into or out of Salt Lake City International Airport during Olympic opening and closing ceremonies as well as restrict private flights during the 2002 Winter Games.

The Federal Aviation Administration was expected to release an official summary of the plan as early as Monday.

Utah security planners had recommended closing the airport during the opening and closing ceremonies within five days of terrorists crashing loaded jetliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

"There was always going to be some restrictions on the air space, but part of it came out of the terrorist attacks," said Robert Flowers, Utah commissioner of public safety and the head of Olympic security. "We looked at what occurred there, and we wanted to make sure it didn't happen here."

While the airport itself will remain open, all flights coming or going will be grounded from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 8 for the opening ceremonies and Feb. 24 for the closing ceremonies, Flowers said.

The FAA's plan also includes a 45-mile radius of restricted airspace around Salt Lake City that will be enforced between opening and closing ceremonies, said Mike Fergus, FAA Northwest Mountain Region spokesman.

Commercial flights will be allowed to fly into that 45-mile swath, but charter flights, cargo planes and other private aircraft will be required to first land at one of four "gateway" airports in surrounding states, Fergus said. The FAA will identify the four sites as part of its full summary.

Planes landing at the gateway sites will undergo security checks and inspections by FAA flight standards officers, then be given a transporter code so air traffic controllers can monitor their flights into Salt Lake City, Fergus said.

"When that flight takes off it will emit a certain code, and that code is only assigned to that aircraft," Fergus said.

All Olympic venues will have restricted airspace stretching in a two- or three-mile radius and up to 18,000 feet, Fergus said.

The FAA's plan also includes details of how to deal with wandering or uncooperative aircraft, but officials would not specify whether that would include shooting down a plane.

"It's a full range of response that can range from losing your pilot's license up to and including deadly force if it's required," Flowers said. "Those responses will be based on the threat to the public."

"Let me put it this way," Fergus said: "Whoever does it will be able to tell their grandchildren, 'I flew formation with the military,' and they won't be the lead plane. There will be (military) aircraft within a timely response distance," Fergus added.

Flowers, who heads the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, defended the airspace restrictions as a necessary step in protecting the Games and said the advanced notice to airlines should minimize interruptions to flight schedules.

"We tried to do this with minimal disruption," Flowers said. "I think the public understands why we're responding the way we are. This is not a move to inconvenience people for no reason — this is a prudent safety move. We appreciate businesses trying to make a profit in these times, but we also have to meet a balance."

The Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association also submitted a package of requests for the plan to the FAA, but Fergus did not say what those were.

A Delta Airlines official declined to comment on the FAA's plan when contacted by the Deseret News Friday night. Other airline representatives could not be reached for comment.

Fergus said the flight restrictions "reflect the concerns of numerous federal agencies," including the Secret Service, FBI, Customs Service, FAA as well as agencies from Utah.

"This is pretty much an unprecedented kind of move here," Flowers said. "It's been a unique thing."

E-mail: djensen@desnews.com