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Flight restrictions don't keep travelers out of air

LAWRENCEVILLE - The anniversary of the day planes became more than just air buses won't stop Ben Sheffler from taking to the friendly skies.

The Suwanee man got on a plane on Sept. 13, 2001 - two days after terrorists hijacked four planes and crashing them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania - and he'll do it again on the five-year anniversary Monday.

For most Americans, the possibility of danger can't get in the way of work.

Sheffler, who travels once a month to Houston for his job in agriculture research, said a little inconvenience at the airport is a small price to pay for a safer trip.

"When I got on that flight five years ago on the 13th," he said, "that was the first trip I made that I was concerned of who was sitting around me, what ethnicities were on board. I paid closer attention to the flight attendants when they talked about emergency procedures. I think everybody did."

Felicia Browder said she thinks Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has discovered the balance between security and convenience with the help of a new underground baggage screening system.

"It's pre-Sept. 11 convenience with post-Sept. 11 security," she said of the $175 million, two-year project.

A typical wait in line for security now takes about 15 minutes, although the wait was two hours the day British government thwarted a terrorist plot last month.

Now, the Transportation Security Administration has ruled toothpaste, deodorant and other items have to be placed in checked luggage and cannot be carried on to a plane.

Sheffler said he thinks more changes to security need to be made.

"I just think we're too reactive to the idiots who in no way, shape nor form, value life - theirs or anyone else's," the father of two said. "It seems like we waited until someone wishing to do us harm figured out how to use a box cutter to take over a plane to decide box cutters have no place on an airplane."

Sheffler said he's inconvenienced in having to check his luggage every time he makes the trip. He spends two days in Houston each month and has down to a science how to fit everything he needs in one bag.

"I had it down so I didn't have to go through baggage claim," he said. "Now what I used to check is the only thing I can carry on. My shave cream, my deodorant, those are the things I'm required to check. Those used to go in my carry-on. Now I have one bag, but I have to wait for it at baggage claim."

Despite the new rules, Browder said she doesn't hear many complaints.

"I think we've all come to accept that terrorism is part of the world we live in," she said. "There was a slump after 9/11 (in air travel) but it's rebounded. We've been busier in the last year than we've ever been."

Brush with terror

Five years after a brush with terror, Bruce Buell is still flying.

Buell owns Advanced Aviation, a flight school at the Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field. He discovered after the attacks that two of the 9/11 hijackers rented a plane from him.

Buell said he doesn't believe Gwinnettians were ever in danger when Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi took the controls of a Piper Warrior because the four-seater likely couldn't have done much damage to a building or another structure.

But he can draw a circle around the airport to determine the places - malls, schools, a dam, a water plant, maybe even an Atlanta venue - the men could have spotted during their hour flight.

For weeks after the attacks, general aviation airports such as Gwinnett's were grounded, and Buell said he lost about $50,000 in business.

But he was able to hold onto the business and new TSA regulations have put background checks into place for any flight student who isn't a U.S. citizen.

With security upgrades at Briscoe Field and inspectors looking through flight records more often, Buell said he believes the county, and in fact the entire country, is more safe.

"I would say we're definitely safer than before. The only way to make it 100 percent safe is to shut it down," he said. "Aviation is safer and that's a reflection that everybody in the country has their eyes open."

Buell said he certainly keeps his eye out for suspicious people, but he knows he can't undo his place in history.

"I don't care to be known for the place where those guys flew, but I'm not going to run away and hide either," he said. "I would rather be remembered for being a quality flight school."

- County Editor Judy Green contributed to this report. For information on what you can and cannot take on an airplane, go to www.tsa.org.