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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

US orders extra air cargo screening on flights from the Middle East 

The directive was aimed at five Middle Eastern countries — including the UAE — citing terrorism threats

Emirates is one of the airlines included in the TSA's emergency order. Courtesy Emirates
Emirates is one of the airlines included in the TSA's emergency order. Courtesy Emirates

US authorities have issued an emergency order requiring additional cargo screening on flights heading to the US from the UAE and four other Middle Eastern countries, citing terrorism threats.

The directive, issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is in response to "persistent threats to aviation", it said in a statement.

The five countries subject to the extra screening are the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In its statement, the TSA said the countries were chosen because of "demonstrated intent by terrorists groups to attack aviation from them".

However, the TSA also said most of the requirements of the order were already being carried out voluntarily by airlines in some countries.

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Specific airlines TSA identified in the order are EgyptAir, operating out of Cairo International Airport; Royal Jordanian, operating out of Queen Alia International Airport; Saudia, operating out of King Abdul-Aziz International Airport and King Khalid International Airport; Qatar Airways, operating out of Doha International Airport; and Emirates and Etihad, operating out of Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport, respectively.

Etihad said in a statement to The National that it was "fully compliant with all regulatory security requirements across its operations".

"The security and safety of our customers and aircraft is always our main priority."

However, it declined to elaborate on its security procedures.

EgyptAir has already stopped accepting cargo shipments on flights to the US, at the request of American authorities.

A foiled plot last summer to smuggle a bomb on board an Etihad plane bound from Australia to the UAE is "an ominous reminder" that "we need to continue our efforts to keep our skies secure", the TSA said.

Under the requirements of the TSA order, airlines are supposed to provide certain information to US customs officials on the shipments "at the earliest practical point" before loading the cargo. The shipment information is then compared to information the US has on terror threats, the Associated Press reported.

However, guests flying on all Etihad Airways flights from Abu Dhabi to the airline’s six US ports of entry — New York JFK Airport, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco — are processed through the US customs and border protection (CBP) preclearance facility available at Abu Dhabi International Airport. This means they pass through all US immigration and customs checks in Abu Dhabi and arrive at their US destination as domestic passengers.

It follows a crackdown on security procedures for carriers in the Gulf and Middle East, after President Donald Trump's travel bans and last year's since-lifted ban on laptops in flight cabins.

Julian Bray, a British aviation expert, said that the extra security checks would be incorporated into scheduling, so passengers would not see delays at the airport.

“The situation is highly fluid, schedules are not set in aspic as they used to be. If increased security is put in then the airlines will have to do a work-around," Mr Bray told The National.

"It might be that they take out one or two flights in order to accommodate the new schedule. You won’t see a delay but you might see fewer flights."

He said the ongoing Gulf crisis was playing a role in the need for increased security.

“Qatar has a problem at the moment," Mr Bray said. "The threat levels locally are greatly enhanced because nobody is talking to each other."