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US Announces Changes in Airline Security Procedures

U.S. transportation officials have decided to let passengers carry some previously prohibited items aboard aircraft. Other security procedures are also being shaken up.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it is relaxing its restrictions on some objects previously banned from the cabins of commercial airliners.

As of Dec. 22 - one of the busiest air travel times of the year - passengers will be allowed to carry small scissors and tools on board aircraft. Scissors under four inches, or about 10 centimeters in length, and other small tools such as screwdrivers less than seven inches, or about 18 centimeters are no longer barred.

Sharp knives of any length remain on the forbidden list.

TSA Deputy Administrator Kip Hawley said airport screeners were taking up far too much time looking for objects that pose no real threat to an aircraft.

"We are opening a lot of bags to take away objects that do not pose a great risk," he said. "We found that a disproportionate amount of our resources go to line-slowing bag searches directed at objects that do not pose a real threat of taking control of an aircraft."

The attackers of September 11th, 2001, used box cutters to commandeer the planes they used to crash into buildings. Security measures have been greatly toughened since then. Lines became longer at airport checkpoints as passengers were screened and found items such as nail clippers confiscated. In the aircraft, cockpit doors have been reinforced.

The new TSA changes have drawn fire from some politicians and families of the victims of September 11th. Even before the formal announcement of the changes, Congressman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he will introduce a bill that would roll back the new TSA changes.

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

But Mr. Hawley said truly dangerous objects will still be banned from planes.

"TSA is not removing items like ice picks, box cutters, or knives of any kind from the prohibited list," he said. "Based on our research and analysis, however, I am convinced that the time now spent searching bags for small scissors and tools can be better utilized searching for the far more dangerous threat of explosives."

Mr. Hawley said that screening procedures will also be made more random, varying from airport to airport so they are not identical and therefore predictable. He said that will make it impossible for potential terrorists to know what security procedures they will encounter.

Critics say the problem of unscreened cargo has not yet been addressed. A Government Accountability Office report last month criticized the transportation agency for not developing a plan and timetable for putting in place comprehensive cargo security measures. Mr. Hawley said new rules on cargo security are still undergoing scrutiny.

Last year, nearly 10.5 million metric tons of cargo was transported in the United States, about one-quarter of which was shipped on passenger aircraft.