WASHINGTON - The head of the Transportation Security Administration has told lawmakers that despite their concerns, he's going to let passengers carry small knives on planes starting later this month.
John Pistole, the TSA administrator, delivered the message in a letter this week to 133 House members who oppose the policy change and who have called it everything from misguided to dangerous to confusing.
Pistole announced the change last month, which will allow travelers to carry pocketknives with blades up to 2.36 inches long back onto airline planes starting April 25. Also being allowed back on planes for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks: hockey sticks, golf clubs, small bats.
Flight attendants, air marshals and pilots have objected loudly. So did 133 House members, who signed a letter March 21 urged Pistole to back off his decision,
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, asked TSA "to revisit this potentially dangerous and confusing policy."
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. and a member of the transportation security subcommittee, said the policy change "seems misguided and frankly dangerous."
Pistole replied in his letter Wednesday that 3 billion passengers have flown domestically since small scissors and knitting needles were allowed on planes "without a single reported disruption from this objects." He aims to focus on riskier threats.
Locking and strengthening cockpit doors has reduced the risk that terrorists can gain control of a plane. But Pistole said the shoe bomber in 2001 and the underwear bomber in 2009 were able to smuggle non-metallic explosives onto planes, and intelligence suggests more bombers are trying to do so.
"Given these real and significant threats, security experts worldwide have concluded that small pocket knives and certain sporting equipment do not pose a security risk that would in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft and the loss of all life on board," Pistole wrote lawmakers.
The House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation will have a hearing Thursday on TSA's risk-based program. And the TSA's Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which was organized to give the agency advice about its operations, is getting a secret briefing on the knife policy April 22.