Wednesday, November 28, 2001

International airlines that don’t immediately turn over advance lists of passengers to be screened for terrorists face more intensive inspections starting this week.
In a letter to 58 carriers, U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner warned of heightened inspections for those that have not complied by tomorrowThursday, even though a new law gives the airlines until next year to start providing the information.
Many international airlines already offer the information to Customs. But Mr. Bonner is urging immediate compliance with the Advance Passenger Information System, which was signed into law last week and gives carriers 60 days to comply.
If the airlines fail to provide the lists, Mr. Bonner said that tomorrowThursday the service “will begin heightened inspections of international flights that pose a national security risk because they do not transmit APIS data.”
The letter, sent to 58 airlines, said that as of Nov. 21 those airlines were not providing Customs with advance passenger information. Those airlines include: Saudi Arabian Airlines, Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Air China, Pakistan International Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines.
A spokesman for Royal Jordanian, which also received the letter, said the airline is preparing software to help comply with the new law.
Customs has received information voluntarily from participating airlines since 1988 on international air passengers, including names, birth dates, nationality and travel document numbers. The information is collected at the time of departure and transmitted to Customs while flights are en route to the United States. Information also is transmitted to Customs about crew members as well.
Under the voluntary program with the airlines, Customs currently has access to about 85 percent of international flight passenger information. It has no information on domestic flights, and the new law wouldn’t change that. The four hijackings on September 11 involved domestic flights.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said the department is unlikely to meet a congressionally imposed deadline for screening all checked bags for bombs. The new aviation security law signed by President Bush earlier this month orders that all bags must be screened starting early next year.
He said he does not expect to meet the new law’s 60-day deadline to devise a system for screening all checked baggage.
He said there were too few employees, bomb-sniffing dogs or explosive-detection machines to do that.
As the Transportation Department prepares to take over passenger and cargo screening at the nation’s airports, Mr. Mineta said he wants to avoid long waits.
“Our goal in passenger screening is no weapons, no waiting,” Mr. Mineta said yesterday.
He also said the department wants to screen air cargo without delaying a plane’s departure and plans to have several thousand air marshals on flights by June 1.

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