Despite growing opposition from airlines and industry unions to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's new policy allowing passengers to carry small knives on planes, the agency's head today said he is not backing down.
"I have to make sure that TSA's focus is on those things that are most destructive to the aircraft," TSA administrator John Pistole told ABC News. "It is not pocket knives. It is those non-metallic improvised explosive devices, the bombs that are very small. They are concealable and they are well designed."
The new TSA policy, which will go into effect on April 25, will permit folding knives that do not lock and that have blades 2.36 inches or less in length and are less than 1/2-inch wide. Novelty-sized and toy bats less than 24 inches long, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs will also now be allowed in carry-on luggage.
The move will conform to international rules that allow small knives and sporting goods. Razor blades, ice picks, scissors and box-cutters -- like those used by the 9/11 terrorists -- will still be banned. Full-sized baseball bats will also remain on the prohibited carry-on list.
The change, which Pistole announced on March 5, came after a TSA working group recommended that such items were not a security threat. He reiterated that liquid explosives, meaning improvised explosive device or I.E.Ds, remain the "greatest concern."
"It's these kinds of things that are easily concealable and they are simply not detected by walking through metal detectors," Pistole said. "We are trying to focus more on terrorist intent."
But the new policy has drawn massive criticism and concerns from three major U.S. airlines, some pilots, flight attendants, federal air marshals, insurance companies and politicians.
In a letter to Pistole dated March 12, American's senior vice president Will Ris wrote that the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier agreed that it was "important" for the TSA to "regularly revisit its rules and regulations" and said American would "adhere fully" to TSA's policies, but added that he wanted to "voice American's concern" over the new change.
"We encourage the TSA to reassess its proposed revisions to the prohibited items list," Ris wrote.
Delta, which is the world's second-largest airline, was the first to speak out against the policy.
In his letter last week, Delta's CEO Richard Anderson said although the Atlanta-based carrier had a strong relationship with the TSA, he disagreed with the agency's recent decision and shared the "legitimate concerns" of flight attendants. Anderson also pointed out that small knives have been banned from commercial planes for the past 11 years.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker also urged Pistole to "reconsider" the policy, writing in a March 11 letter, "US Airways fully supports the continuous review and amendment of TSA policies. We also understand and support the risk-based assessment employed by the TSA. However, this review and policy amendment process is most effective when it is conducted in a collaborative way with airlines and their flight crews."
"In particular, seeking input before implementing a change in policy that might place our flight attendants' safety at risk would have provided a more thoughtful path to the desired outcome of secure and safe air travel."