December 1, 2005

Small Scissors to be Allowed Back on U.S. Planes

By John Crawley and Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON -- Small scissors and screwdrivers - banned after September 11 - will be allowed back on airplanes as U.S. security policy changes focus to target bomb threats, government officials said on Thursday.

The changes, expected to be announced on Friday by the Transportation Security Administration, were directed by Congress and are part of a broader shift away from the methods used to hijack four jetliners on September 11, 2001.

The al Qaeda hijackers -- who crashed three planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon while the fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field -- used boxcutters and knives to overpower flight crews, investigators concluded. Flight attendants, pilots and passengers were stabbed or slashed. The fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Easing security was opposed by pilots and attendants at some big airlines who contend aircraft remain vulnerable.

"It's hard to imagine that the federal government would even consider taking such a risk considering the resourcefulness and intention of those intent on doing us harm," the Allied Pilots Association said in a statement. The group represents pilots at American Airlines.

American and United Airlines each had two planes hijacked.

But the Air Line Pilots Association, the nation's largest pilots union, whose members include United employees, supports the change.

"By all appearances, they are shifting their focus in the direction it needs to go," said John Mazor, an ALPA spokesman. "Anything can be used as a weapon to a trained assailant, a ballpoint pen can be used to kill people."

U.S. security planners believe steps to boost passenger and checked bag screening, arm pilots, deploy air marshals, and secure cockpits with bulletproof doors have addressed the hijack threat. They now want to focus more closely on explosives -- including potential suicide bombers.

According to a government official, TSA director Kip Hawley is expected to outline changes on Friday that will enable airport security to focus less on time-consuming bag searches and put more effort into explosive detection.

Small scissors with blades less than four inches and tools like screwdrivers that are less than seven inches will be removed from the long list of banned items. Box cutters and other tools with cutting edges, crowbars and hammers remain off limits.

Hawley is also expected to announce that more bomb-sniffing dogs will be deployed at airports and used to inspect cargo bound for passenger aircraft. Security officials also plan more random screening of passengers for prohibited items or traces of explosives, the source said.

Much of the permanent screening systems in place at U.S. airports cannot detect sophisticated explosives, a point that some congressional lawmakers have long stressed publicly and sought to change.

Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said the shift he helped direct is long overdue.

"The real threat are explosives," said Mica.

(Additional reporting by Veena Trehan in Washington)