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Plane passengers anxious as Swiss authorities ease knife ban

Airline passengers are leery of Swiss army knives onboard aircraft. www.victorinox.ch

Travellers at a Swiss airport feared for their safety and filed complaints after a man was allowed to board a plane with a knife.

This content was published on January 3, 2002 - 15:51

A security official at Geneva airport detected a knife in a passenger's bag, but then handed it back to him and allowed him to board the Crossair aircraft, headed for London City Airport on January 2.

Shocked passengers complained to airport and airline staff. One passenger was a London broker who lost dozens of colleagues in the World Trade Center hijack attacks of September 11.

Christmas gifts

The Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA) imposed a ban on knives under 6cm long following the attacks on New York and Washington. However, the ban was lifted a few days before Christmas, when passengers typically carry more Swiss army knives purchased as presents or souvenirs.

Credit card records show Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the September 11 hijackers, bought two Swiss army knives at a duty-free store in Zurich airport on July 8. The knives were not used in the hijacking, but some of hijackers are believed to have used short-bladed weapons.

A ban remains on longer-bladed knives, which were forbidden long before the terrorist attacks.

"Every time something happens - like September 11- security measures are reviewed, and if there is a need for a long-term change then that change will be made," said Daniel Goering, a spokesman for FOCA. "Security standards in Switzerland are high, so there's not a big need for dramatic change."

Support for decision

Airport authorities in Geneva also supported FOCA's decision to lift the ban.

"If you want to eliminate all risks, you could impose a ban on other items, such as ties," says Philippe Roy, spokesman for Geneva airport. "I think it's impossible to rule out all risks - and a small knife is no more dangerous than many other items."

However, Roy did not rule out a possible reversal of the ban if public concern became overwhelming.

"If there is a high number of complaints, maybe we could look at impose a ban on all knives aboard aircraft," says Roy. "But for the time being, we are acting according to the rules applied by FOCA."

For its part, Crossair says it agreed with the decision to relax the ban and it confirmed that Swiss authorities had consulted the airline industry.

"People are focusing on knives because of September 11," says Patrick Jeandrain, a spokesman for Crossair. "But we don't think there is a real danger in allowing people to carry pocket knives."

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