The Pentagon had proposed restricting foreign-owned commercial and cargo aircraft from flying into and from New York and Washington, and over Somerset County, Pa., on the anniversary.
But amid protests from the carriers, top government officials decided to drop the idea, concluding that it was probably illegal, the official said. Foreign carriers will not be treated any differently than domestic carriers on that day, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Intelligence officials pressured transportation regulators to consider restrictions on foreign flights, and the regulators moved too quickly in discussing the plan with carriers, a government official said. But various international treaties bar singling out foreign carriers, the official said.
However, the government is still considering restrictions on general aviation and charter flights. They would be legal, the official said.
The International Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. and foreign-owned airlines, had questioned why American-owned airlines are not included.
"The way (the proposed restriction) is structured now discriminates against foreign airlines and unintentionally suggests that a foreign airline isn't as secure as a domestic airline, and that certainly isn't the case," spokeswoman Wanda Warner said.
David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said the plan would inconvenience many travelers and may increase anxieties about Sept. 11.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said the government had no specific information suggesting events commemorating Sept. 11 at those sites are terror targets. No firm decisions have been made on flight restrictions, he said.
The three attack sites will see temporary flight restrictions because President Bush plans to visit each of them, and such restrictions follow him wherever he goes, the official said.
The proposed restrictions had included:
The restrictions were first reported by The Financial Times of London