By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Two weeks after authorities banned passengers from carrying most gels and liquids on board airlines, the nation's top aviation security official yesterday said he did not have a timetable for scaling back the restrictions.
"The threat is not over," said Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. "This issue is not by any means over. . . . We're not going to feel a pressure on time."
Security officials said they were constantly adjusting and examining the list of items banned on Aug. 10 in response to a potential terror plot that British police said they had uncovered. Among the items that were banned from passengers' carry-on bags were bottled water, toothpaste and hair gel.
Hawley declined to discuss specifics of his plans to revisit the restrictions.
Security officials at the TSA said they would be surprised if the new rules were not still in place over Labor Day weekend, a heavy travel period for the airline industry.
In the days after hastily enacting the bans, authorities amended the restricted items, allowing passengers to bring medications, baby food and solid lipsticks on airplanes. The TSA also began requiring passengers to remove their shoes to be X-rayed.
Hawley said no changes would be made until authorities had finished studying the plot and other potential threats.
"That is a very high priority right now, analyzing what exactly they were going to do, what exactly was it, how would it work, how would we detect it, how would we stop it," Hawley said during a question-and-answer session with reporters from The Washington Post and Associated Press during a taping of C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, which is scheduled to air at 10 a.m. Sunday. "As the course of investigation continues, and we learn more and we do more science on it, that is going to guide us to say, 'Yeah, we can make that change in the security regime.' "
In the first days after the new restrictions, analysts and aviation industry leaders worried that the bans could hurt the airlines because many travelers would not want to deal with the hassle of checking bags.
Airlines have reported that the number of checked bags has risen substantially since the restrictions were enacted but said there has not been a decline in ticket sales.
Worried that some business travel might decline after the busy summer season, airlines are closely tracking bookings for September and will be paying attention to trends as the late-year holiday travel season approaches, analysts said.
"The big airlines are monitoring this very closely," said Ray Neidl, an analyst with Calyon Securities Inc. "So far, people have adjusted. . . . Everybody, the traveling public, the airlines, the TSA, want to get rid of the unnecessary restrictions. But they are being very cautious."
John Meenan, the chief operating officer of the Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents U.S. carriers, said that he believes the restrictions will "continue to evolve."
"If the security situation permits, we would very much like to see the programs adjusted to accommodate passenger service," Meenan said.