Logan International Airport Executive Blasts Easing of Security Measures

Dec. 8--Logan International Airport's top executive yesterday blasted federal Homeland Security regulators for proposing to ease restrictions on passengers' bringing scissors and tools on board airplanes, saying it sends "the wrong message" to terrorists and travelers alike.

Craig P. Coy, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, formally opposed the changes in a letter sent Tuesday to the Transportation Security Administration. Few, if any, airport managers around the country have objected to the TSA proposal, according to an industry group.

But the plan has drawn criticism from flight attendants, federal air marshals, and families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, all of whom say it would make air travel less safe.

Last week, US Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Malden, introduced a bill to maintain current restrictions.

Coy's comments came as new concern about aviation security flared yesterday after an air marshal shot and killed a passenger in a jetway at Miami International Airport. The 44-year-old US citizen, who claimed to have a bomb in his bag, ignored an order to stop and reached into the bag, officials told the Associated Press. A witness said the man's wife was trying to explain that he was mentally ill.

The TSA has proposed, starting Dec. 22, to let air travelers carry scissors with cutting blades up to four inches long and tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches up to seven inches long in their carry-on bags.

By freeing up security screeners from having to seize such items, the TSA said, they will be able to focus more aggressively on far more serious threats, such as passengers concealing improvised bombs.

But at Logan, the departure point for the two jets that leveled the World Trade Center in New York after reportedly being commandeered by terrorists wielding small box cutters, officials are resolutely opposed.

In a letter to TSA administrator Kip Hawley made public yesterday, Coy said: "It is difficult to tell our passengers that what looks to them like the beginning of a retreat on standards is in any way justifiable."

Coy urged the TSA either to drop the changes entirely, or at least to give special permission for screeners at Logan to maintain the current banned-items list after Dec. 22. While Massport controls airport terminals and facilities, the TSA has sole jurisdiction over security checkpoints and procedures.

Speaking for Hawley, George N. Naccara, the TSA's security director at Logan, said the scope of the proposed changes has been widely misunderstood.

"Knives and box cutters will all be prohibited, as they were before," Naccara said. "I don't feel that we are compromising security or relaxing it at all."

While the TSA is proposing to reduce the number of items it bans, the agency is also proposing to subject more passengers to personal inspections, and make the checks more random to keep potential terrorists off guard. In the last three years, the TSA has seized 30 million small items, about one-quarter of which are the kinds of small scissors and other tools that would no longer be banned from airplanes.

"We hope to free up some of our assets to do other things," Naccara said. "I understand Mr. Coy's perspective. Sometimes you just don't agree 100 percent, and you do the best you can." He added that "much could happen in these next two weeks. Since it's only a proposal, there could be modifications."

Richard Marchi, senior vice president of Airports Council International-North America, a Washington-based trade association, said airport officials in his group have overwhelmingly supported the TSA's changes.

"Our members have argued for more risk-based and threat-based regulations," Marchi said, so TSA screeners don't waste time "fishing sewing scissors out of the handbags of grandmothers."

Many aviation industry officials doubt that terrorists using small, sharp objects could successfully hijack a plane today, because of major changes since the Sept. 11 attacks: hardened cockpit doors, the deployment of federal air marshals on many flights, many airplane pilots carrying guns, and terrorism-conscious passengers who are more likely to quickly fight back.

Marchi, who was a senior Massport planning executive in the 1980s and 1990s, said he knew of no other airport officials who were taking Coy's position against changing the banned-items list. But because of Logan's role in 9/11, Marchi said, "It's understandable to me that an airport like Boston would have a very, very conservative view."

Markey, who serves on the congressional Homeland Security Committee, said he backs Coy. Markey's bill, dubbed the "Leave All Blades Behind Act" -- a play on the No Child Left Behind federal education act -- would maintain the current banned-items list.

Referring to the reputed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Markey said that "allowing razor-sharp scissor blades back into the passenger cabins of aircraft is a dangerous retreat. The Bush administration proposal is just asking the next Mohamed Atta to move from box cutters to scissors."

Markey also argued that "if TSA does not have enough screeners to detect weapons-usable items like sharp scissors while also scanning for bombs, the answer is more screeners, not less scrutiny."