Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
By LESLIE MILLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Small scissors and screwdrivers are among the items airline passengers will soon be allowed to take aboard planes again, Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley announced Friday.
Hawley said the change will take effect Dec. 22 and is part of a broader effort aimed at having screeners spend more of their time searching for explosives rather than small, sharp objects that don't pose as great a risk.
Passengers also can expect more randomness at security gates so would-be terrorists won't know for sure what they will see. For example, an airport might require all passengers to remove their shoes one day but not the next.
"It is paramount to the security of our aviation system that terrorists not be able to know with certainty what screening procedures they will encounter at airports around the nation," Hawley said. "By incorporating unpredictability into our procedures and eliminating low-threat items, we can better focus our efforts on stopping individuals who wish to do us harm."
Among the items no longer prohibited from airliner cabins: scissors 4 inches or less, and tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers that are smaller than 7 inches.
Flight attendants and some lawmakers say the changes undermine security.
Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., said Thursday they intend to introduce a bill to preserve the current list of items barred from the cabin.
"The Bush administration proposal is just asking the next Mohamed Atta to move from box cutters to scissors as the weapon that's used in the passenger cabin of planes," Markey said, referring to the leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Justin Green is an attorney for the families of three flight attendants who died aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which hijackers crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Two of the flight attendants, Bobbi Arestegui and Karen Martin, were stabbed by the terrorists. The third, Betty Ong, reported what was happening during the hijacking in a telephone call to authorities on the ground.
"The families are outraged that the TSA is planning on letting weapons back on board," Green said.
Airlines generally support Hawley's plan. So does the pilots' largest union, the Air Line Pilots Association.
Bob Hesselbein, the union's national security committee chairman, said pilots think it's more important to focus on passengers' intent rather than what they're carrying.
"A Swiss army knife in the briefcase of a frequent flyer we know very well is a tool," Hesselbein said. "A ballpoint pen in the hands of a terrorist is a weapon."
TSA screeners this year alone have confiscated 12.6 million prohibited items, including 3 million sharp objects, according to the Homeland Security Department.
They've also taken away 8.1 million lighters, the only item prohibited by law. Congress, concerned that terrorists would have an easier time igniting a bomb with a lighter than with matches, enacted the ban. It took effect April 14.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee's aviation panel, agrees with Hawley that screeners should be looking for explosives rather than small, sharp objects that could be used as weapons.
"You have a huge army of pilots that are now armed, you have significant numbers of federal air marshals, you have secure cockpit doors, you have an alert public," Mica said. "Terrorists aren't dumb, they can see what the weakness in the system is."
More than 18,000 screeners have been trained on advanced explosives detection techniques, Mica said.
But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee's aviation panel, objected to the policy shift.
In a letter to Hawley, she wrote that the change "could undermine the progress we have made in securing our skies since the 9/11 attacks. Security demands vigilance; we cannot become complacent."
Markey said the TSA is presenting the public a false choice. If there aren't enough screeners to check for sharp objects and bombs, he said, then more screeners should be hired.
The Association of Flight Attendants supports Markey's initiative. So does the Southwest Airlines flight attendants' union, Transport Workers Local 556.
"I have not spoken to a flight attendant at any airline that isn't outraged by this," said Thom McDaniel, the local's president.
McDaniel said the premise for the policy change is ludicrous. "They want to focus more on explosives, but they're not even mentioning that the biggest threat to commercial aviation right now is still the fact that most cargo is not screened."
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)