Liquids banned after scare on mainland flight

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am

Mainland aviation authorities have decided to ban passengers from carrying liquids on board aircraft in a bid to tighten security after a flight crew foiled what authorities said was a plot to down a Beijing-bound airliner on Friday.

Yang Chengfeng , head of the General Administration of Civil Aviation's security bureau, said the ban would not only apply in the lead-up to or during the Beijing Olympics in August, but would be indefinite.

Authorities have yet to agree on a timetable for its introduction but Mr Yang, whose agency oversees aviation industry security on the mainland, said: 'As far as I'm concerned, the quicker, the better.'

The tightening of airport security came as mainland authorities for the first time admitted that terrorist organisations had plotted attacks on the Olympics.

The admission was in response to the arrest of four Uygur suspects, including a 19-year-old woman from Kuche, Xinjiang , in connection with cans of petrol found in the toilet of a China Southern Airlines flight on Friday, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Lanzhou, Gansu province .

Mainland media reported that the woman was able to walk through security checks with two cans of petrol and a bottle of mineral water by taking advantage of slack security at Urumqi airport.

The Xinjiang Airport Group also reported on its website yesterday that security guards at Yining airport in Yili prefecture detained a man from the region's main Kazakh ethnic group on Saturday after he refused to co-operate during a regular security check. The Yili valley was the scene of large-scale anti-Chinese rioting in 1997. The report said airport security guards uncovered three contraband items hidden under the man's belt but airport authorities refused to give more details.

Security analysts said the lapse at Urumqi airport exposed the vulnerability of the mainland aviation industry to terror attacks and there should be greater security safeguards across the sector.

Li Wei , director of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations Centre for Anti-terrorism Research, said that among other things, security staff must learn to maintain their guard 'to treat everyone the same during security checks regardless of whether they are business class passengers or flight attendants'. Existing air safety guidelines bar travellers from carrying beverages on board planes, but allow passengers to take one litre of other liquids on domestic flights and 100 millilitres on international flights.

Professor Li said the new measure was more drastic than in other countries and was likely to increase waiting times for passengers. There was also likely to be greater inconvenience for some passengers such as those on medication.

Mr Yang said the terror scare on Friday was a major reason behind the decision to ban liquid carry-on items.

Mainland officials have also sought to assure the international community that Beijing will be safe during the Olympics. Citing an influx of tourists and rising prices for hotel rooms in the capital, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China was one of the safest places in the world.

Yesterday, Liu Jingmin, vice-mayor of Beijing and executive president of the 2008 Games organiser Bocog, also pledged tough security measures during the Olympics.

Additional reporting by Peter Simpson