The Coalition of Airline Pilot Associations, which represents 22,000 pilots, said it opposes allowing knives of any kind in airliner cabins.
"We believe the (terrorism) threat is still real and the removal of any layer of security will put crewmembers and the flying public unnecessarily in harm's way," Mike Karn, the coalition's president, said.
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 charter, the mission of TSA is to stop an airplane from being used as a weapon and to stop catastrophic damage to that aircraft," David Castelveter, a spokesman for the agency, said. Pistole's position is "these small knives, these baseball bats, these sporting items aren't going to contribute to bringing an airplane down," he said.
In an era of reinforced cockpit doors and passengers who have shown a willingness to intervene, the threat from terrorism has been greatly reduced, said Andrew R. Thomas, a University of Akron business professor and author of several books on the airline industry and security.
"Acts of aberrant, abusive and abnormal passenger behavior known as air rage remain the most persistent threat to aviation security," he said.
Adler, representing the air marshals, said aviation security is neither "terrorist-proof nor psycho-proof," and both should be protected against.
TSA's "primary concern, and their only concern, is to protect the cockpit to make sure the planes aren't turned into missiles," he complained. "Traveling Americans are expendable, disposable and otherwise irrelevant to air travel safety."
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."
Freed reported from Minneapolis.
Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy
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