9/11 Anniversary Skies are Quiet

The solemn 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States came and went without any new provocations, amidst heightened security at airports and other transportation hubs nationwide. Wreaths were laid, speeches were made, and tears were shed at several places around the country, but most visibly at the three sites of the attacks. People took the day to remember their loved ones lost, their fears and their commitments. It was as it should have been.

All of us pilots remembered, too, for all of those same reasons and then some.

Ten years and two days ago, the aviation world as we knew it was gone, suspended, evaporated in the ashen wake of the hijacking of four commercial airliners and the subsequent unimaginable attacks by three of the four, two at the World Trade Center in New York City and one at the Pentagon in our nation’s capital, on mostly civilian targets. A certain fourth attack was prevented by a passenger takeover of Flight 93 from its hijackers, resulting in the 757 crashing into a field in a town previously little known, Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It will never be known how many lives their sacrifice that day saved.

Within two hours of the Shanksville crash, the government had shut down the National Airspace System to all but military and authorized emergency flights. I was 25 miles from Ground Zero at the time. I remember the ghostly quiet of the skies. It was an alien world.

The NAS reopened a few days later, and once it did, there were a number of new restrictions for pilots and passengers in nearly every segment of aviation, including the widespread implementation of areas of Temporary Flight Restriction (TFRs), a permanent TFR around Washington, D.C., and the effective closing off of the capital to general aviation. Flying life today is infinitely more complicated for pilots based at airports in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., than it was before the attacks.

For much of the aviation world, however, the skies remain very much as they were before 9/11. Though we’ve learned to stay aware for possible TFRs along our route of flight, with the exception of greatly heightened security at major airline airports and somewhat heightened security at larger GA airports, life in the air today is largely as it was before that fateful day.

Except that we all remember. And we always will. And we’ll keep on flying.


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