Plea for end to US air alert
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AVIATION officials are to ask the United States to lift a high-security alert imposed on American-based and bound airlines, saying bomb threats against them have long been over.
The Civil Aviation Department's request comes as other Asian airports have lifted the directive without informing or even consulting the Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA), a department spokesman said yesterday.
About a dozen airports in the region, including Kai Tak, were in early January instructed to increase security during the Pope's 11-day Asian tour following intelligence reports from Manila pointing to US-based carriers being the possible targets of bomb attacks by Islamic extremists.
'We will ask the FAA why it should continue,' the department spokesman said.
'We always co-operate with the FAA but it has been a long time now since the Pope's visit and we don't know what the threat still is.
The spokesman would not say which airports had lifted the heightened security measures. Neither would he confirm if the department would tell airlines to lift restrictions individually, even if the FAA deemed the measures still necessary.
The January directive initially called for physical cabin searches and pat-down body searches of all passengers on departing flights by Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines - the four US carriers serving Kai Tak.
It was later upgraded to include a ban on all aerosols and certain quantities of liquids, and was extended to Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines, the only two carriers to fly to the US from Hong Kong.
Airline officials also want the measures lifted, saying it has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra security and has incensed passengers with flight delays of as long as three hours.
In one case a Taiwanese woman bound for the US on a Northwest Airlines flight out of Kai Tak was arrested and later fined $1,000 for assaulting a security officer who confiscated her make-up.
Hong Kong general manager for Northwest Airlines, Gilbert Chow Yun-cheung, said: 'We suffer on two fronts. One is the additional costs in employing the security people and the other is the delays it causes to the passengers.' Meanwhile, the aviation department spokesman said yesterday that Hong Kong airport officials were not informed of an alleged plan by Islamic militants to blow up two United Airlines Boeing 747s on January 22 as the jumbos approached the territory.
The plan was discovered on January 6, just before the Pope's visit, in documents seized from the Manila hideout of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the man charged with masterminding the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Centre, Philippine police said.