WASHINGTON (AP) Thousands of passengers whose flights were diverted after Tuesday”s terror attacks began resuming their journeys yesterday, but officials kept the rest of the nation”s commercial air fleet on the ground.

Paul Wong
A crowd gathers at the Northwest Airlines counter at the Mall of America to check on flight statuses yesterday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Federal transportation officials said they won”t reopen the skies to all planes until they can ensure the safety of the passengers.

One plane that had been diverted to Canada landed last night at an airport in the Northeast, the Federal Aviation Administration said, although it was unclear exactly where. Other flights were also on their way home, the FAA said.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said yesterday that only those flights diverted Tuesday because of four hijackings and intentional crashes would be allowed to continue to their original destinations. Only passengers originally on the flights could reboard, and only after airports had imposed new security procedures. Some passengers slept in the planes Tuesday night.

Mineta could give neither a time nor a date for full resumption of air service, stopped by unprecedented government order after the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. He said it was decided to indefinitely postpone full restoration of service after aviation officials discussed security problems with the FBI and intelligence agencies.

“Safety is always of paramount importance,” Mineta said.

At the same time, the FAA was hurrying to put into effect new, more stringent security procedures.

The Justice Department said one option when service resumes is to put law enforcement personnel on planes, a practice that has been used in the past. Regardless of whether that step is taken, U.S. marshals, the U.S. Customs Service and the Border Patrol definitely will be part of increased security on the ground at airports, Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.

FAA officials said they did not know how many flights were affected by the shutdown of the nation”s air transportation services. On a normal afternoon, about 5,500 flights are in the air, including small private planes, the agency said.

Mineta said that in addition to permitting stranded passengers to get to their original destinations, the government would allow airlines to move empty planes from airport to airport to get ready for normal operations.

When asked when normalcy would return to the air, Mineta replied: “I can”t give you a date or time as to when we will be back in operation. We”re trying to make that determination based on the safety and the security of the airline passengers and the airline operation, given the intelligence reports that we are getting.”

Mineta noted that officials had hoped to accomplish that by midday yesterday. After hearing misgivings about safety from FBI and intelligence officials, however, “The determination was made to put off operations until we are sufficiently secure in our own information about when to resume operations,” he said.

Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Transportation appropriations subcommittee, said federal law enforcement officials indicated that terrorist threats remain. “They said it was too soon to relax our guard,” Sweeney said.

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