Lighter ban on flights delayed
Law set to take effect Tuesday, but TSA says it's under review
From Mike M. Ahlers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Passengers still can carry butane lighters aboard commercial aircraft this week despite a law banning them that was scheduled to take effect Tuesday.
The Intelligence Reform Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in December, orders the Transportation Security Administration to ban butane lighters within 60 days of the legislation's enactment, which would have been February 15.
But the TSA on Tuesday said that the ban "is currently under review." It promised it would give the public adequate notice before enforcing any new ban.
Lawmakers voting to ban butane lighters cited the case of Richard Reid, a Briton who tried unsuccessfully to ignite a shoe bomb while on a flight from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, in December 2001. The flight, with nearly 200 people aboard, was diverted to Boston, Massachusetts. Reid was sentenced to life in prison.
Members of Congress said that Reid's attempts to ignite the bomb may have been undetected if he had used an odorless lighter instead of a match.
Some ridiculed TSA rules that allow passengers to carry on two butane lighters and four books of matches. Torch-style lighters are prohibited.
At a hearing last summer before the law's passage, Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said the TSA is concerned about prohibiting items that it cannot detect.
"There is a concern that we just simply do not create rules that inconvenience the public but do not enhance our security capability. So that's what we're weighing," Hutchinson said.
Unswayed, Congress passed the law banning butane lighters and ordered the TSA to review its list of prohibited items and adjust it as the agency sees fit.
The TSA also will ban matches, a source told CNN.
One airline passenger group said it supports the ban of lighters and matches, provided that passengers who mistakenly bring the items to airport checkpoints are handled appropriately.
"Most of our members thought that they [lighters] probably weren't allowed to begin with," said David Stempler of the Air Travelers Association.
"Basically we support the banning of lighters and matches. The hesitation has to do with the ability to detect [the items]. There may be a lot of inadvertent carriage of these items. How's the enforcement going to be managed?"
He added, "We'd like it to go into effect sooner rather than later. The government has its processes. We just don't want them to drag their feet too long."