Airlines, Airports May Struggle With U.S. Security Deadlines

  • Lack of bomb-sniffing dogs, equipment may pose difficulties
  • U.S. carrier trade group forecasts airport disruptions

Here's How to Comply With the Travel Ban

Airlines and overseas airports will struggle to meet deadlines for implementing broad new security requirements on flights to the U.S., airline industry groups and consultants say.

Airports have a short timeline to comply with a few of the directives the Department of Homeland Security issued Wednesday, according to a memo from the International Air Transport Association to its members. Some technology and even bomb-sniffing dogs required under the measures aren’t readily available in each of the 280 airports affected.

“Getting the right equipment is one thing -- whether it’s canines or X-ray machines. Training people to support those is another,” said Michael O’Neil, chief executive officer of MSA Security, which provides security, training and other services. “Then it’s going to come down to costs. None of this stuff is cheap. And who is going to be responsible for that?”

DHS didn’t detail whether airlines, airports or governments must pay for the upgrades, he said.

The stepped-up standards are in response to intelligence showing terrorist groups have become more sophisticated in their bomb-making efforts and could hide explosives in laptops or other electronic devices. The measures include enhanced screening of electronic devices, more thorough vetting of passengers, increased use of bomb-sniffing dogs and measures to mitigate the potential threat posed by insider attacks, DHS Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday.

The new procedures, being put in place to avoid an outright ban of large personal electronic devices in airline passenger cabins, cover an average 2,100 flights a day coming into the U.S. and 325,000 passengers, DHS said. Airports that can’t fulfill the new requirements by the deadlines might have to force fliers to give up their electronics, or flights to the U.S. may be banned altogether, Kelly said.

Read More: U.S. Demands Overseas Airport Security Boost, Not Laptop Ban

Explosive trace detection equipment required under the new measures isn’t readily available on a wide scale, consultants said. Neither are bomb-detecting dogs, said O’Neil, who runs the largest bomb-dog program in North America. 

“We believe that the development of the security directive should have been subject to a greater degree of collaboration and coordination to avoid the significant operational disruptions and unnecessarily frustrating consequences for the traveling public that appear likely to happen,” Nicolas Calio, president of Airlines for America, said in a statement.

Airlines have had ample opportunity to discuss the measures in multiple meetings with U.S. officials and the vast majority of airports should have no trouble meeting the new requirements, according to Homeland Security.

“This is a response to the risk posed to commercial aviation by terrorists,” said David Lapan, a department spokesman. “We are addressing an evolving threat and the measures are not ‘one size fits all’ but intended to raise the baseline on aviation security worldwide.”

Open to Discussions

The department is open to discussions with carriers that can’t meet the deadlines, a senior Homeland Security official said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. The official requested anonymity to discuss details of the security measures.

Security screening needs to be consistent to thwart terrorists who will try other routes if only some airports have stepped-up measures, said Robert Mann, president of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co.

“It’s a Whack-a-Mole type of problem,” he said of terrorist threats. “Although intelligence tells you it comes from a particular place, it doesn’t tell you what route it will take to get there. It finds its own path, so every path has to be considered risky.”

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