By Keith Laing
A group of 133 House members has signed a letter to the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) calling for the agency to reverse its decision to allow small knives on airplanes.
The reversal, which is scheduled to take effect on April 25, will mean knives will be allowed onto airplanes for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when four U.S. jetliners were hijacked by terrorists using box cutters.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers who wrote to Pistole cited the attacks as the reason why he should reconsider the decision on knives.
"On September 11, 2001, hijackers on board United 93, United 175, American 77, and American 11 took over these planes using mace, box cutters and knives to attack passengers and crew," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, first drafted by Reps. Michael Grimm (R, N.Y.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) on March 12.
"After these deadly terrorist attacks of 9/11, all knives and dangerous sporting equipment, like pool cues, were placed on a list of prohibited items and banned from planes," the lawmakers continued. "Congress acted swiftly to ensure that TSA was afforded the resources and authority to ensure a secure aviation system for the American flying public. We strongly believe that the prohibition of dangerous items is an integral layer in the safety of our aviation system."
TSA has thus far resisted pressure from lawmakers to reverse the knife decision.
The agency has said that allowing small knives on planes "aligns [U.S. airport security] with international standards and our European counterparts."
"TSA is taking small knives, novelty-sized bats and certain sporting equipment off of the Prohibited Items List starting April 25, which will allow Transportation Security Officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives and/or improvised explosive device (IED) components," the agency said in an earlier statement.
Pistole himself told lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee last week that removing knives from its prohibited items list would allow airport security screeners to focus on searching for explosive devices.
"That's what risk-based security is all about, trying to identify what are the most significant risks ... and making sure that our officers and our entire national U.S. government national security team is trying to be as precise and focused on those threats that cause the greatest damage," Pistole said.
Pistole added that scissors, knitting needles and seven-inch screw drivers have been allowed on airplanes since 2005.
"We've had of billions of passengers, approximately 620 million a year, travel in the U.S. with these items permissible and there has not been a single incident involving those in terms of attack on passengers, flight crew, federal air marshals, anybody," the TSA chief said when he testified before Congress.
The explanations have done little to mollify lawmakers.
"The Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations oppose TSA’s policy change and do not believe that policies that promote standards of safety and security should be relaxed," the letter to Pistole said.
"The concerns of these groups, composed of aviation sector employees who will be directly impacted by this policy, as well as other aviation sector stakeholders, should be heard through the existing [Aviation Security Advisory Committee] process prior to implementation of a policy that would permit passengers to bring knives and certain sporting equipment into the passenger compartment of a plane."