US tightens security to limit laptop ban

Officials say the new safety measures will take effect within three weeks.
Officials say the new safety measures will take effect within three weeks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Move heightens screening of travellers and their electronic devices for US-bound flights

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK • The United States unveiled enhanced security measures for flights to the country, in a move designed to prevent expanding an in-cabin laptop ban, but an airline trade group said the changes might cause more disruptions.

The measures, which European and US officials said would begin taking effect within three weeks, could require additional time to screen passengers and personal electronic devices for possible explosives.

The measures would affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the US on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries.

The US in March banned laptops on inbound flights originating from 10 airports in eight countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey, to address fears that bombs could be concealed in electronic devices taken aboard aircraft.

Britain quickly followed suit with a similar set of restrictions.

The decision not to impose new laptop restrictions eases US and European airlines' concern that expanding the ban to Europe or other locations could cause major logistical problems and deter travel.

"Inaction is not an option," US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a news briefing, adding that he believed airlines would comply with the new screening. But he said the measures were not the last step to tighten security.

The measures would affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the US on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries.

  • NEW AIRLINE SECURITY MEASURES FOR THE U.S.

  • Enhanced security measures include, but are not limited to:

  • 1

    Enhancing overall passenger screening

  • 2

    Conducting heightened screening of personal electronic devices

  • 3

    Increasing security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas

  • 4

    Deploying advanced technology, expanding canine screening, and establishing additional pre-clearance locations

US carriers said they would follow the new security directive, but industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A) criticised Homeland Security for not working more closely with them on the new policies.

"The development of the security directive should have been subject to a greater degree of collaboration and coordination to avoid the significant operational disruptions and unnecessarily frustrating consequences for the travelling public that appear likely to happen," A4A chief executive Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement.

Mr Kelly had been saying since April he thought an expansion of the laptop ban was "likely". He said last month the government could potentially expand the ban worldwide.

Homeland Security officials told reporters they expected more than 99 per cent of airlines would comply, a move that would effectively end the controversial electronics ban.

Airlines that fail to satisfy new security requirements could still face in-cabin electronics restrictions, Mr Kelly said.

"We expect all airlines will work with us to keep their aircraft, their crew and their passengers safe," he said.

European and US officials told Reuters that airlines have 21 days to put in place increased explosive trace detection screening and have 120 days to comply with other security measures, including enhanced screening of airline passengers.

The US authorities want increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas, expanded canine screening and additional places where travellers can be cleared by US officials before they depart.

Airline officials told Reuters they were concerned about adding enhanced security measures to all airports worldwide that have direct flights to the US, rather than focusing them on airports where threats are highest.

European airline groups said in a document reviewed by Reuters that if the threats are confirmed, the restrictions should be deployed to cover all EU-departing flights, not just US-bound flights.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'US tightens security to limit laptop ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe