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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Qatar Airways removed from US laptop ban list

All personal electronic devices can be carried on board all departures from Hamad International Airport to destinations in the US with immediate effect

A Qatar Airways Airbus A350. Qatar has had its laptop ban lifted on flights to the US. Michael Probst / AP Photo
A Qatar Airways Airbus A350. Qatar has had its laptop ban lifted on flights to the US. Michael Probst / AP Photo

Qatar Airways joined two other major long-haul Arabian Gulf carriers on Thursday in getting off a US ban on laptops and large electronics in airplane cabins, despite facing logistical challenges amid the country's diplomatic dispute with several Arab nations.

Doha-based Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, Dubai-based Emirates and Istanbul-based Turkish Airlines all have put security procedures in place to satisfy American authorities. US officials instituted the ban in March across 10 Middle East cities over concerns ISIL fighters and other extremists could hide bombs inside of laptops.

Qatar Airways said that with "immediate effect, all personal electronic devices can be carried on board all departures from Hamad International Airport to destinations in the United States". Hamad in Doha is the hub of Qatar Airways.

"Qatar Airways and Hamad International Airport have met with all requirements of the US Department of Homeland Security's new security guidelines and we would like to express our thanks to the US and local authorities for their support during this process," the airline said in a statement. "We would also like to thank our loyal passengers for their understanding and patience while the ban has been in place."

The airline did not respond to questions about its new procedures. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees safety in American air travel, did not respond to a request for comment early on Thursday.

The US laptop ban still applies to nonstop US-bound flights from six airports in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Cairo; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Casablanca, Morocco. Saudi Arabian Airlines has said it hopes to be off the ban list "on or before July 19".

While Gulf airlines have not commented on security procedures, Turkish officials say they use CT scanners to take cross-section images of electronics just before passengers board airplanes heading to the US Istanbul airport now also restricts US-bound flights to two departure gates, apparently for better security.

Etihad already has a US Customs and Border Protection facility at its Abu Dhabi hub that allows passengers to clear screening they'd otherwise have to go through when landing in America.

There is a precedent for concern over laptops being used as bombs. Somalia's Al Qaida-linked Al Shabaab said it planted a bomb inside a laptop-like device that exploded on a plane leaving Mogadishu in February 2016, killing only the bomber.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways has seen its flight paths over many of its neighbours cut off since Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut diplomatic ties to Qatar on June 5. The airline has since been putting more flights over Iranian and Turkish airspace while appealing to a United Nations agency overseeing air travel to reopen those routes.

Qatar Airways also has announced it wants to buy 10 per cent of American Airlines, which would cost about US$2.4 billion and possibly further open the US market to the carrier.

Qatar's foreign minister on Wednesday said he didn't believe Qatar Airways' delay in getting off the laptop ban list had anything to do with the dispute.

"This is an ongoing process and I think irrelevant to the entire" political crisis, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in London.

* Associated Press