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TSA’s shift to allow knives sparks debate

WASHINGTON — Flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals, airlines, and even insurance companies are part of a growing backlash to the Transportation Security Administration’s new policy allowing passengers to carry small knives and sports equipment such as souvenir baseball bats and golf clubs onto planes.

The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants, said that it is coordinating a nationwide legislative and public education campaign to reverse the policy announced by TSA Administrator John Pistole this week.

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A petition posted by the flight attendants on the White House’s ‘‘We the People’’ website had nearly 10,400 signatures early Friday urging the administration to tell the TSA to keep knives off planes.

‘‘Our nation’s aviation system is the safest in the world thanks to multilayered security measures that include prohibition on many items that could pose a threat to the integrity of the aircraft cabin,’’ the coalition, which is made up of five unions, said in a statement. ‘‘The continued ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation security and must remain in place.’’

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 change.

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 crew members and the flying public unnecessarily in harm’s way,’’ Mike Karn, the coalition’s president, said.

There has been a gradual easing of some of the security measures applied to airline passengers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The new policy conforms US security standards to international standards and allows the TSA to concentrate its energies on more serious safety threats, the agency said.

The policy change was based on a recommendation from an internal TSA working group, which decided the items represented no real danger, the agency said.

A TSA spokesman said the presence on flights of gun-carrying pilots traveling as passengers, federal air marshals, and airline crew members trained in self-defense provide additional layers of security to protect against misuse of the newly allowed items.

Not all flights, however, have federal air marshals or armed pilots.

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.

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