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U.S. Imposes New Air-Cargo Rules After Bombing Plot

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

The U.S. adopted new security measures for cargo on passenger aircraft in response to the bomb plot last month that originated in Yemen, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

The new rules will bar “high-risk cargo” -- material the government declined to describe -- from passenger planes flying to the U.S., Napolitano said in a statement today. Also banned from commercial and some international air-cargo flights are toner and ink cartridges weighing more than a pound (.45 kilogram) in carry-on or checked bags, she said.

The Obama administration and the airline industry also are working on a plan for handing over cargo manifests quickly so authorities have more time to look at the contents of shipments before a plane’s arrival in the U.S., she said.

“These security measures reflect our commitment to using current intelligence to stay ahead of adversaries,” Napolitano said.

Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has said he will introduce a bill requiring screening of all packages on air-cargo planes, said the new rules don’t go far enough.

“Today’s announcement of new, additional screening for both cargo and passenger planes is a constructive step but points out that our job is not yet done,” he said in a statement.

Markey was co-sponsor of a 2007 law that requires all cargo on passenger planes to be screened.

Further Investigation

U.S., Yemeni and European investigators are working to uncover more details of a terrorist plot involving two bombs concealed in printer cartridges found in packages that originated in Yemen. U.S. authorities have said they suspect a master bomb-maker from al-Qaeda made the explosives.

Administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they didn’t want to define high-risk cargo for fear it would alert terrorists on what would be prohibited.

High-risk packages will either be X-rayed, screened by a machine that can detect traces of explosives, sniffed by specially trained dogs or opened and inspected by authorities, one official said.

Toner cartridges from well-known companies with a good safety record will be permitted on board, the official said. Further restrictions will be announced later, including a plan to receive air-cargo manifests before a plane departs, the official said.

No Major Changes

The new rules won’t mean major flight changes, said Tim Smith, spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Inc. “We are in full compliance with all directives, and we do not expect any significant operational issues because of the changes,” he said in an e-mail.

Christen David, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., and Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., said in interviews that their companies are working to comply with the new measures.

Air-cargo companies said they are trying to meet an undisclosed deadline for implementing all the security changes.

“UPS does not anticipate any difficulties at all in achieving the goals of compliance by their deadline,” said Norman Black, a spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS, in an interview.

FedEx Corp. backs the increased scrutiny of cargo, said Sandra Munoz, a spokeswoman for the Memphis-based company. “We support the agency’s goals to help make cargo transportation more secure,” she said in an interview.

The U.S. is continuing a ban on any cargo coming from Yemen and extending it to Somalia, she said.

The ban extension is in response to the continuing threat from Al-Shabaab, a group based in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda.

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