Hong Kong seeks clarity on enhanced US airport security rules
Washington drops plan to expand its in-cabin ban on laptops and other electronic devices
Hong Kong is seeking clarity over airport security rules after, to the relief of Asian carriers, the US dropped a threat to expand its in-cabin ban on laptops and other electronic devices.
Instead, as part of its anti-terror measures, Washington has called for enhanced screening measures on all US-bound flights from overseas airports.
Passengers flying to the United States may expect airports and airlines to conduct more rigorous screening of electronic devices with technology that detects explosives, thereby ruling out the need for an expanded laptop ban.
The Civil Aviation Department said it was taking further advice from US authorities because an array of new technology and security measures was now required.
Failure to comply risks airports and airlines being slapped with an electronics ban or even being blacklisted by the US.
A spokesman for the aviation authority said it was “liaising with the US Transportation Security Administration to seek further details,” and would follow it up with the appropriate action.
The Airport Authority said it would work with the regulator and airlines to put in place “necessary arrangements” while Avseco, the airport’s security provider, said its scanning equipment already complied with US rules, including on explosive detection.
Cathay Pacific Airways, which operates up to 14 daily flights to the US, said it was “monitoring” developments. However, more advice for passengers would be shared as soon as it was available.
US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who announced the new rules, said they were in response to innovations by terrorists, who brought new threats.
“We send a clear message that inaction is not an option,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “It is time to raise the global baseline of aviation security.”
Washington said 325,000 travellers on 2,100 international flights from 280 airports in 105 countries would be affected.
In Asia, 179 flights and as many as 51,000 travellers fly to the US daily, according to the Capa Centre for Aviation.
The announcement did not include a blanket ban on carrying electronic devices in aircraft cabins. Airlines believed such a move would have put many off travelling.
An Avseco source said it would need to employ extra manpower to cope with the required boarding gate checks.
More time may therefore be needed to board flights.
According to officials in the US and Europe, airlines have 21 days to increase explosive screening and 120 days to meet other requirements.
In March, Washington introduced restrictions on large electronic devices on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Britain brought in a similar ban for six countries.
Ellis Taylor of FlightGlobal said: “This [announcement] is a major positive for Asian carriers that serve the US, as they have largely been in limbo since the first bans were announced.
“Given carriers in Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan and South Korea are really targeting to connect passengers from Asia through to North America, a laptop ban on US routes would have caused havoc.
“Nonetheless, Asian carriers will have to work closely with their respective security agencies to ensure that passengers are being screened effectively at all points, lest the US move to impose unilateral bans again.”
Additional reporting by Reuters