Aviation: U.S. demands overseas airport security boost

The U.S. government is imposing broad new demands for increased airport security on flights to America from other countries in an attempt to combat the threat of terrorists hiding bombs in laptops, reports Bloomberg.

The measures by the Department of Homeland Security represent one of the most sweeping security upgrades in the past decade but stop short of a threatened ban on large electronics in aircraft cabins. It will apply to an average of 325,000 passengers a day flying to the U.S. from 280 airports in 105 countries, according to the agency.

“We are not standing on the sidelines as fanatics hatch new plots,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in Washington on Wednesday. “It is time that we raise the global baseline of aviation security.”

The goal of the latest action was to react to intelligence showing terrorist groups have become more sophisticated in their bomb-making efforts and could hide explosives in laptops or other electronic devices.

The measures will include enhanced screening of electronic devices, more thorough vetting of passengers, increased use of bomb-sniffing dogs and measures to mitigate the potential threat posed by insider attacks, Kelly said. The actions will be both seen and unseen, he added.

The actions sought by DHS will be “far more aggressive” than the current standard screening, said Representative John Katko, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and received a briefing from the agency. “The nature of the screening is going to be quite intense.”

‘Welcome’ Move

In contrast to the controversy surrounding the laptop ban that targeted specific airports, the aviation industry offered no signs of resisting the latest initiatives, which come after European Union officials pushed back on widening the restrictions. The International Air Transport Association, which opposed the laptop ban, said it “welcomes” the new policies.

“The aggressive implementation timeline will, however, be challenging,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO said in the statement. “Meeting it will require a continued team effort of government and industry stakeholders.”

Deutsche Lufthansa AG said it had received the new U.S. security instructions, some of which are required to be implemented immediately, while others will be phased in. Air France-KLM Group said that airlines and airports have been given 21 days in which to implement the changes.

London Heathrow airport said the hub will work with airlines to make journeys “as smooth as possible,” a spokesman said by email, declining to outline whether existing measures would need to be amended. Fraport AG, which operates Frankfurt airport, said it would work with authorities to implement “all necessary” requirements.

The measures build on a ban of electronic devices larger than mobile phones that was imposed in March for U.S.-bound flights originating from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. In that ban, devices could be stored in checked bags, which are more thoroughly screened for explosives.

Gulf Relief

The announcement offers the first hope that airlines caught in the March ban, such as Emirates and Qatar Airways, can resume normal operations. If global hubs like Dubai impose the new security regime, passengers flying to the U.S. can once again bring their laptops aboard planes, according to a Homeland Security official who declined to be named discussing details.

The announcement that the ban on electronics may eventually end for flights from Dubai was cheered by the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington.

“Today’s decision is good news for travelers originating from or connecting through U.A.E. airports on flights to the U.S.,” Yousef Al Otaiba, the country’s ambassador, said in an emailed statement. At least part of the enhanced security may involve use of newer screening technology, according to the official.

Underwear Bomb

Almost all airports, particularly those in developed nations that already have sophisticated security measures, should be able to meet the new requirements, according to the agency. If a nation or an airline declines to impose the security actions or can’t, passengers could be forced to give up their electronics, or flights could be banned altogether, Kelly said.

The Transportation Security Administration has already begun similar security measures at domestic airports aimed at electronic devices, according to the official.

The latest action would be one of the most significant and widespread security enhancements since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, said Randall Larsen, founder of the Institute for Homeland Security. It appeared to rank with the ban on liquids and the body scanning required after a terrorist smuggled a bomb in his underwear.

“It’s a pretty big one when you’re talking about that many airports and airlines,” Larsen said.

Delays Expected

DHS didn’t release a precise deadline. Airlines will be asked to impose new security in phases, with short- and long-term goals, the agency official said. They are likely to be imposed by this summer.

Airlines for America, the trade group for large carriers, said it recognized the need for security enhancements but predicted travel disruptions would result.

“We believe that 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 traveling public that appear likely to happen,” Nicholas Calio, the group’s president, said in a statement.