Citing his agency’s authority to prevent terrorist attacks as well as to continue to move toward a screening model focused on bad people rather than just bad things, Transportation Security Administration Chief John Pistole yesterday said his plan to soon allow small knives onboard passenger planes does not represent a threat to the overall security of aircraft and will move ahead as planned.

Pistole said an internal security review initiated two years ago in response to concerns raised at his Senate confirmation hearing regarding the prohibited items list that forces many aircraft passengers to get rid of pocket knives and small corkscrews as they enter aviation security checkpoints led to his decision this month to modify the list. He said that the TSA confiscates about 2,000 of these small knives and similar sharp objects on a daily basis at the nation’s airports and that allowing these items to be carried through the checkpoint will ultimately save passengers time and enable screeners to focus on more threatening objects.

Al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist organizations remain focused on the aviation system as a target and using non-metallic explosives to carry out their attacks, Pistole told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

Pistole said that before his arrival at TSA, the agency had already removed small scissors and screwdrivers from the prohibited items list, noting that there have been no incidents aboard aircraft as a result. He also said his pending change to the list, which will go into effect April 25, is basically inline with international standards adopted in August 2010, which have also been implemented without any security incidents.

Among the factors that Pistole said were analyzed before his decision to allow certain types of small knives onboard planes are intelligence, including how terrorists are trying to conduct attacks, the potential for increased risk to passengers and flight crew, how security operations would be impacted at the checkpoint, whether the change would increase the risk of an aircraft being taken down, alignment with international security standards, the need to balance security and efficiency, and demand for more common sense security and less hassle.

Pistole said his decision is in line with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to "prioritize the screening of explosives on passengers."

Pistole acknowledged to the committee that he could have done a better job engaging aviation stakeholders prior to making his decision. Flight attendants in particular have been vocal in denouncing the change to the prohibited items list and most Democrats that spoke at the hearing indicated their opposition to the shift.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said that she plans to introduce a bill to halt the changes to the list.