US stands by plan to allow small knives on planes

WASHINGTON (AP) - The head of the United States (US) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told lawmakers on Thursday he stands by his plan to allow passengers to carry small knives onto planes despite a growing backlash against the proposal.

It's unlikely in these days of hardened cockpit doors and other preventative measures that the small folding knives could be used by terrorists to take over a plane, TSA Administrator John Pistole told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

On the other hand, searching for the knives on passengers or in their carry-on bags is time consuming, Mr Pistole said. TSA screeners confiscate about 2,000 such knives every day, with each incident chewing up about two to three minutes, he said.

"I think the decision is solid and it stands and we plan to move forward," Mr Pistole said.

The policy, which goes into effect on April 25, has sparked strong opposition from flight attendants, federal air marshals, some pilot unions, aviation insurers and some airline chief executives. In the hands of the wrong passengers, the knives present an unnecessary safety risk to flight attendants and other passengers, critics say.

Several members of the House committee said they share those concerns and urged Mr Pistole to reconsider his position.

Besides knives, the policy will also allow passengers to include in their carry-on luggage novelty-size baseball bats less than 610mm 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.

Knives permitted under the policy must be able to fold up and have blades that are 60mm or less in length and are less than 127mm wide.

The policy is aimed at allowing passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other small knives.

There has been a gradual easing of some of the security measures applied to airline passengers after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the US.

The new policy mostly conforms US security standards to international standards and allows the TSA to concentrate its energies on more serious safety threats, Mr Pistole said.

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