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Originally published Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:39 PM

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Delta CEO joins backlash against knives on airliners

The CEO of Delta Air Lines has joined groups representing pilots, flight attendants, air marshals and insurers in opposing a federal policy change to let passengers carry small knives aboard airliners.

The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — The head of Delta Air Lines on Friday joined growing opposition to a new policy of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that will allow passengers to carry small knives onto planes.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson said in a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole that he shares the “legitimate concerns” of the airline’s flight attendants about the new policy.

Allowing small knives to be carried on board after a ban of more than 11 years “will add little value to the customer security process flow in relation to the additional risk for our cabin staff and customers,” Anderson said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

“If the purpose is to increase security checkpoint flow, there are much more effective steps we can take together to streamline the security checkpoints with risk-based screening mechanisms,” he said.

Delta, based in Atlanta, is the world’s second-largest airline. It is the first major airline to join not only flight attendants but pilots, federal air marshals and insurance companies in a burgeoning backlash to the policy. Pistole announced the policy on Tuesday.

Airlines for America, a trade association representing major U.S. airlines, has been supportive of TSA without explicitly endorsing the policy.

“We support the TSA’s approach of combining its vast experience with billions of passenger screenings with thorough risk-based assessments,” Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the association, said in response to a request Friday for the association’s position.

Anderson cited only small knives in his letter. The policy, which goes into effect April 25, also will allow passengers to include in their carry-on luggage novelty-size baseball bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs. Items like box cutters and razor blades are still prohibited.

Knives permitted under the policy must be able to fold up and have blades that are 2.36 inches or less in length and less than a half-inch wide. The policy is aimed at allowing passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other small knives

The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants, said Thursday it is coordinating a nationwide legislative and public-education campaign to reverse the policy. A petition posted by the flight attendants on the White House’s “We the People” website had nearly 12,000 signatures late Friday urging the administration to tell the TSA to keep knives off planes.

Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, whose 26,000 members include federal air marshals, complained that he and other “stakeholders” weren’t consulted by TSA before the “countersafety policy” was announced. He said the association will ask Congress to block the policy change.

The Coalition of Airline Pilot Associations, which represents 22,000 pilots, said it opposes allowing knives of any kind in airliner cabins.

The new policy has touched off a debate over the mission of TSA and whether the agency is supposed to concentrate exclusively on preventing terrorists from hijacking or blowing up planes, or whether it should also help protect air travelers and flight crews from unruly and sometimes dangerous passengers.

The new policy has aviation insurers concerned as well.

“We think this move is a bad idea, and isn’t in the interests of the traveling public or flight crews in the aviation industry,” said Joe Strickland, head of American operations for Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, a leading global aviation insurer.

“Safety is the highest priority of every commercial air carrier, flight crew member and air traffic controller,” he said. “We don’t see how these changes support this priority.”

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