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US Lawmakers Differ on Changes in Airline Screening Measures

A Democratic Party lawmaker says a U.S. government decision to end a ban on scissors and certain other sharp objects airline passengers are permitted to take on aircraft would encourage terrorists. Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey is vowing to fight the relaxation of restrictions that went into effect following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, while another lawmaker agrees with the plan, which is due to be announced Friday.

Congressman Markey says the decision to relax the restrictions by the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a bad idea.

"Mohamed Atta and the other September 11 hijackers used box cutters as a weapon to launch their deadly attack against our country," he explained. "TSA should not make it easier for future Mohamed Attas to arm themselves with razor sharp objects and bring down a passenger plane."

He says unions and associations representing flight attendants and air marshals oppose the TSA plan because they know the dangers that would result from lifting the four-year-old ban.

One of those, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, says doing so would pose a threat to the safety of passengers as well as the air marshals trying to ensure passengers' safety.

However, the Air Transport Association, which represents major U.S. airlines, gave its support Thursday to the overall TSA initiative.

Although easing restrictions on some sharp objects, the strategy aims to save time for airport screeners and enable them to carry out new methods of random screening.

Congressman Markey is not persuaded this approach will end up increasing the safety margins in the screening process:

"If TSA does not have enough screeners to detect weapons-usable items like sharp scissors while also scanning for bombs, the answer is more screeners not less scrutiny," said Mr. Markey.

Congressman Markey says he will introduce legislation, which he calls the "Leave All Blades Behind Act" if the government does not reverse its decision.

The statement by the Air Transport Association Thursday said it believes the new screening process will, in its words, "enhance security by focusing [the] Transportation Security Agency's screening resources on threats presenting the greatest concern."

Another House lawmaker closely involved in aviation security issues supports the changes that are expected to take effect December 20.

Republican Congressman John Mica, who chairs the House [of Representatives] Subcommittee on Aviation Security, says the threat to passenger aircraft from scissors and knives has decreased.

The new regulations will lift the ban on metal scissors with a blade of four inches or less, and tools of seven inches or less, such as screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers.

Still prohibited will be knives, along with saws, drills, hammers and crowbars.

The New York Times, in a report Thursday citing a document summarizing the changes, said other measures including expanded explosives detection methods, will go into effect simultaneous with the easing of the ban on metal objects.