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TSA drops plan to allow small knives on planes

Posted: June 6, 2013 8:00 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2013 8:00 a.m.
 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Transportation Security Administration is abandoning a plan to allow passengers to carry small knives, souvenir bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes in the face of fierce congressional and industry opposition, the head of the agency said Wednesday.

By scuttling the plan to drop the knives and sports equipment from TSA's list of prohibited items, the agency can focus its attention on other priorities, including expanding its Pre-Check program to identify ahead of time travelers who don't pose a security risk, TSA Administrator John Pistole told The Associated Press.

Pistole had unveiled the proposal to loosen the rules for carry-ons in March, saying the knives and other items can't enable terrorists to cause a plane to crash. He said intercepting them takes time that would be better used searching for explosives and other more serious threats. TSA screeners confiscate over 2,000 of the small folding knives a day from passengers.

Skeptical lawmakers, airlines, labor unions and some law enforcement groups complained that the knives and other items in the hands of the wrong passengers could be used to injure or even kill passengers and crew.

Last month 145 House members signed a letter to Pistole asking him to keep in place the current policy prohibiting passengers from including the knives and other items in their carry-on bags. Flight attendant unions organized protests in Washington and at airports across the country. And Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. airlines, as well as top executives from some of the nation's largest airlines, came out against the plan.

"After getting the input from all these different constituents, I realized there was not across-the-board support that would serve us well in moving forward," Pistole said. By dispensing with the controversial proposal, he said the agency can focus on programs to identify the greatest security threats.

"It is a recognition that, yes, these items could be used as weapons, but I want our folks to focus on those things that, again, are the most concern given the current intelligence," he said.

The TSA announced the change on the very day the House debated the agency's budget, poised to vote on reversing the policy. And in fact, just a few hours later, the House gave unanimous voice vote approval to an amendment to the Homeland Security Department's budget bill to reverse the proposed regulations on knives and other potentially dangerous objects.

Some opponents changed their position in recent weeks as Pistole explained his reasoning to Congress and in meetings with interest groups. Among those who initially criticized the TSA plan was Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the plane that hit the Pentagon in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"They laid out a case for this that I thought made a lot of sense, and I really changed my mind," she said in an interview.

"The TSA is so overwhelmed with the screening process and what they are trying to keep off airplanes, that I think to lessen that difficult task or mitigate it can be a good thing," Burlingame said. "There is a safety issue. But there is a difference between safety onboard an aircraft and security aboard an aircraft."

The proposal would have permitted folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or less in length and are less than 1/2 inch (1 centimeter) wide. The aim was to allow passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other knives.

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