Previously Banned Items Now Allowed on Planes

Starting Thursday, certain items that used to be banned on airplanes — including small tools and scissors — will now be permitted on board. Renee Montagne talks to the director of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We turn now to new regulations that will affect travel on airlines. Starting today, nail clippers, small scissors, even pocket knives will no longer be confiscated by airport screeners. Fully 25 percent of all bag searches involve these small, sharp items. It's a controversial rule change aimed at freeing up airport personnel to look for more dangerous things. Transportation Security Administration director Kip Hawley says box cutters are among the things that are still banned.

Mr. KIP HAWLEY (Director, Transportation Security Administration): Drills, knives, hammers, ice picks, any of that stuff is still prohibited. The only thing new that you're going to be allowed to bring onto a plane are your household scissors and then tools under 7 inches. And the reason we picked those specific lengths have a lot to do with the testing we did with our transportation security officers, and that was the break point at which they felt they could easily make the determination on the screen without having to open the bag. It actually was 6, 6 and 1/2 inches where the break point was, but we thought we'd make it seven inches.

MONTAGNE: Although couldn't somebody say a six-and-a-half-inch knife is pretty darn dangerous?

Mr. HAWLEY: Well, my hands are pretty dangerous and there are so many things that are on an aircraft today that could be used as weapons. And the risk of someone using those tools is not significant. I would much rather have our guys do a better job of finding explosives than rooting around in the bags for the scissors and tools.

MONTAGNE: In terms of the current risk environment, there are those who would applaud this because they would say nobody would allow a plane to be taken over by someone wielding small scissors the way they would have before September 11th.

Mr. HAWLEY: That's absolutely correct. That--in the days immediately after September 11th, there was emergency reaction to close down the opportunity for that to be repeated. And over the last four years, many, many, many things have gone into place, including hardened cockpit doors, that are a significant barrier to terrorists. And then all of the other things with the federal air marshals--all of those things have really made it very difficult for someone to hijack a plane with small tools or scissors. And as we look at our vulnerability in conjunction with what's the threat and what's the consequence, the explosives show up as something we need to put more resource against.

MONTAGNE: And why not do all of it, search for explosives and keep a ban on small scissors and tools?

Mr. HAWLEY: Well, if I had one more screener or a million more screeners, I would still make these changes to the prohibited items list because there are a lot of other things that make the scissors and tools at the very, very fringe area of possible threat.

MONTAGNE: You have some very powerful forces arrayed against you in making this change. They include relatives of victims of 9/11, flight attendants.

Mr. HAWLEY: We have met with flight attendants and families of 9/11 victims and I understand the point and I do sympathize with the point because if you are looking at any object, if it's a scissor or whatever it is, you can imagine that thing being used for terrible ends. We have to look at what is the threat to the aviation system, what is the threat to the United States. It's not really a difficult decision that says we should focus our resources where the risk is greatest and that risk is over on the explosive side.

MONTAGNE: Kip Hawley is director of the Transportation Security Administration.

And thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. HAWLEY: Thank you, Renee.

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Correction Dec. 30, 2005

Pocket knives are still banned by the Transportation Safety Administration, contrary to what was reported in this story.

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