New TSA Policy On Knives, Bats Sparks Backlash

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WASHINGTON
(AP) — Flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals and even
insurance companies are part of a growing backlash to the Transportation
Security Administration's new policy allowing passengers to carry small
knives and sports equipment like souvenir baseball bats and golf clubs
onto planes.

The Flight Attendants Union
Coalition, which representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants, said it
is coordinating a nationwide legislative and public education campaign
to reverse the policy announced by TSA Administrator John Pistole this
week. A petition posted by the flight attendants on the White House's
“We the People” website had more than 9,300 signatures early Friday
urging the administration to tell the TSA to keep knives off planes.

“Our
nation's aviation system is the safest in the world thanks to
multilayered security measures that include prohibition on many items
that could pose a threat to the integrity of the aircraft cabin,” the
coalition, which is made up of five unions, said in a statement. “The
continued ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation
security and must remain in place.”

Jon Adler,
national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association,
whose 26,000 members include federal air marshals, complained that he
and other “stakeholders” weren't consulted by TSA before the
“countersafety policy” was announced. He said the association will ask
Congress to block the policy change.

The
Coalition of Airline Pilot Associations, which represents 22,000 pilots,
said it opposes allowing knives of any kind in airliner cabins.

“We
believe the (terrorism) threat is still real and the removal of any
layer of security will put crewmembers and the flying public
unnecessarily in harm's way,” Mike Karn, the coalition's president,
said.

The new policy, which goes into effect
on April 25, permits folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches or
less in length and are less than 1/2-inch wide. The policy is aimed at
allowing passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades
and other small knives.

Passengers also will
be allowed to include in their carry-on luggage novelty-sized baseball
bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski
poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs. Items like box
cutters and razor blades are still prohibited.

There
has been a gradual easing of some of the security measures applied to
airline passengers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The new
policy conforms U.S. security standards to international standards and
allows the TSA to concentrate its energies on more serious safety
threats, the agency said when it announced the change this week.

The
policy change was based on a recommendation from an internal TSA
working group, which decided the items represented no real danger, the
agency said.

A TSA spokesman said the presence
on flights of gun-carrying pilots traveling as passengers, federal air
marshals and airline crew members trained in self-defense provide
additional layers of security to protect against misuse of the newly
allowed items.

Not all flights, however, have federal air marshals or armed pilots onboard.

The
new policy has touched off a debate over the mission of TSA and whether
the agency is supposed to concentrate exclusively on preventing
terrorists from hijacking or blowing up planes, or whether it should
also help protect air travelers and flight crews from unruly and
sometimes dangerous passengers.

“The charter,
the mission of TSA is to stop an airplane from being used as a weapon
and to stop catastrophic damage to that aircraft,” David Castelveter, a
spokesman for the agency, said. Pistole's position is “these small
knives, these baseball bats, these sporting items aren't going to
contribute to bringing an airplane down,” he said.

In
era of reinforced cockpit doors and passengers who have shown a
willingness to intervene, the threat from terrorism has been greatly
reduced, Andrew R. Thomas, a University of Akron business professor and
author of several books on the airline industry and security, said.

Rather,
“acts of aberrant, abusive and abnormal passenger behavior known as air
rage remain the most persistent threat to aviation security,” he said.

The
International Air Transport Association recently reported that the
incidence of air rage cases was way up, with an estimated 10,000-plus
such events annually, Thomas said.

Adler,
representing the air marshals, said aviation security is neither
“terrorist proof nor psycho proof,” and both should be protected
against.

TSA's “primary concern, and their
only concern, is to protect the cockpit to make sure the planes aren't
turned into missiles,” he complained. “Traveling Americans are
expendable, disposable and otherwise irrelevant to air travel safety.”

The new policy has aviation insurers concerned as well.

“We
think this move is a bad idea, and isn't in the interests of the
traveling public or flight crews in the aviation industry,” said Joe
Strickland, head of American operations for Allianz Global Corporate
& Specialty, a leading global aviation insurer.

“Safety
is the highest priority of every commercial air carrier, flight crew
member and air traffic controller,” he said. “We don't see how these
changes support this priority.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material
may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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