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New directives from the Department of Homeland Security require airlines that fly to the United States to step up screening of passengers for trace amounts of explosives and, in some cases, impose more stringent security checks.
The department, in announcing the directives on Wednesday, laid out generally what the measures would do. But the additional details were disclosed in an airline industry memo obtained by The New York Times.
Aviation specialists and industry officials predicted that the new mandates would add to the challenges of airports and airlines, particularly smaller ones, during the busy summer travel season. The directives said the airports must have the explosive detection devices in place in 21 days and conduct the tougher security checks by the fall.
“I don’t expect everything to go smoothly because it never does,” said Ben Baldanza, the former chief executive of Spirit Airlines. “But I do expect the new directives to be implemented and implemented well.”
To comply with the new rules, some airlines and airports will need to buy explosive-detection equipment, hire more staff and spend time training employees. Besides the added costs, the challenge is putting the technology and workers in place at hundreds of airports across the globe.
In the short term, the aviation specialists said, passengers may run into additional delays as they go through security. And as the airlines and airports absorb the higher costs of complying with the new rules, the industry officials said, ticket prices could increase.
The rules require that 280 airports that are the last point of departure for flights to the United States have explosive-detection technology, such as devices that can detect bomb residue on passengers’ hands, in place within weeks, according to a memo the International Air Transport Association sent to airlines on Wednesday. A spokesman for the association declined to comment.
Foreign airlines operating flights to the United States must, within months, show that they are carrying out certain security measures, including interviewing passengers as part of the security check, the memo obtained by The Times said.
Overseas airlines must bring their security procedures in line with the standards for American airlines, the memo said.
Some of the largest American airlines expressed fear that the changes could complicate their operations in the next few months.
Nicholas Calio, chief executive of Airlines for America, which represents most of the large American airlines, criticised the process for developing the rules. In a statement, he said his group believed “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 travelling public that appear likely to happen.”
A spokeswoman for the airline organisation declined further comment. A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, which is not part of the organisation, said the airline was working with the federal security agencies to minimise impact on customers.
Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asian Pacific Airlines in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said that the mandates will have a “far-reaching impact” and described the deadlines as “quite tight.” He added that some of the most significant costs will be borne by travellers trying to navigate security.
The full financial implications of the new rules remain unclear. At some airports, airlines may pay for new equipment and additional employees, but airport operators are expected to share the burden.
Robert O’Meara, a spokesman for the European region of Airports Council International, said, “At this early stage, it’s difficult to estimate the cost implications, but I think it’s fair to say it’s likely to be significant unless national governments assist with funding.”
European airports already offer relatively stringent security measures, and that could make compliance with the new rules easier, Mr O’Meara said.
Compliance promises to be challenging for smaller airports that have not recently upgraded security systems and protocols, and for the airlines that service those locations.
“The problem is going to be some of the smaller airports that operate flights to the US,” said Kenneth Button, a professor at George Mason University who studies air transport. “Some of those only have one or two flights to the US a day.”
Airlines that do not comply with the new rules face significant penalties. Those at airports that do not put the explosive detection devices in place within the Homeland Security Department’s timetable could lose the right to service the United States.
“We recognise there are fairly aggressive timelines involved, partially because we are dealing with a known and evolving threat,” said Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the department. "There is a sense of urgency.”
While airports are affected by the new mandates, the department officially issued the rules to airlines, because the department, with the Transportation Security Administration, regulates flights into the United States.
Some airlines may even benefit from the new rules. Their passengers are currently prohibited from carrying devices larger than cellphones on direct inbound flights from 10 airports in Muslim-majority countries. If the airlines can show that they have complied with the rules, the laptop ban will be lifted.
“Lifting the ban on bringing laptops and other personal electronic devices on board will be good news for travellers flying into the USA,” Emirates, the airline with a hub at Dubai International Airport, said in a statement. Emirates is among the Mideast airlines whose business has been affected.
“We look forward to working with the authorities and Dubai airport stakeholders to implement these measures as soon as possible for our US flights,” the airline said.
The US Department of Homeland Security lifted its ban on electronic devices in the cabins of commercial jetliners flying to the US from Abu Dhabi after validating security measures at a facility inside Abu Dhabi International Airport, according to a statement from Etihad Aviation Group. "The removal of the restrictions allows passengers flying to the US to carry all laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices onto the aircraft, subject to enhanced security measures," the airline said in a statement Sunday. Reuters