U.S. Homeland Security officials are backing away from a proposal that would have required airlines to hand over passenger lists 60 minutes before a flight departs for the United States.
U.S. and European airlines have complained that the U.S. airline security plan -- which has been discussed among aviation officials but not formally proposed -- would disrupt flight schedules for carriers that use European hubs in London and Paris and cause excessive delays for passengers. U.S. officials say they need about an hour to check each flight's passenger manifest against the government's several watch lists.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was in Europe to discuss the issue with officials. Now, agency officials said they are considering alternatives to the 60-minute requirement that would give airlines options that are more convenient to their schedules. The options include reducing the 60-minute time requirement and allowing carriers to send passenger names over to U.S. officials individually as each passenger checks in, according to agency officials familiar with the plans.
"We are discussing a number of possible options with our international and private-sector partners that will allow us to achieve our mutual goals of enhancing security," said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.
The agency is trying to close a loophole that could allow terrorists to board an aircraft before the government can complete all passenger name checks. Homeland Security now relies on airlines to check each passenger name before departure against two lists, the no-fly list of persons with ties to terrorism and the selectee list of persons who pose some risk to the aircraft.
However, the airlines use lists that are less extensive than government lists. Carriers turn over passenger lists to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials 15 minutes after takeoff. U.S. officials often divert inbound flights if they discover a passenger's name on one of their lists.
Yesterday, a third foreign airliner in four weeks was diverted because a passenger aboard was suspected to be on the agency's no-fly list. A passenger was removed from a Korean Air flight from Seoul to San Francisco and was determined to be on the no-fly list, a person familiar with the incident said. But the passenger was deemed not as much of a threat as supposed and was allowed to board a later flight.
A coalition of the world's largest carriers urged Homeland Security last week "to accelerate efforts to 'clean up' the no-fly and selectee lists. Problems with these lists have been at the root of many of the [flight] diversions to date," said the Air Transport Association and the Association of European Airlines in a May 26 letter to Chertoff.