US to heighten aviation screening instead of banning laptops

US to heighten aviation screening instead of banning laptops
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The U.S. is rolling out new aviation security measures for all international flights coming into the country instead of imposing a laptop ban, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Wednesday.

Passengers on U.S.-bound flights can expect to go through a more “extensive screening process” beginning as soon as this summer in some areas, according to senior officials. The enhanced procedures will impact 105 countries, 180 airlines and an average of 2,000 daily flights.

“It is time that we raise the global baseline of aviation security. We cannot play international whack-a-mole with each new threat,” DHS Secretary John Kelly said during a security conference on Wednesday.

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“Instead, we must put in place new measures across the board to keep the traveling public safe and make it harder for terrorists to succeed.”

The administration's announcement comes after weeks of negotiations between the U.S. and Europe over whether to restrict large electronics on all U.S.-bound flights — a policy that currently only applies to 10 overseas airports.

But senior DHS officials said Wednesday that if airlines don’t comply with the new screening protocols, their passengers will not be allowed to bring large electronics onto their flight, either in carry-on bags or checked luggage.

The U.S. does not have jurisdiction over foreign airports, but has authority over airlines that have direct flights into the country.

To avoid the laptop ban, the DHS is outlining new steps that domestic and foreign airlines must take in order to beef up their aviation security, which will include enhanced screening of passengers and large electronics, as well as enhanced protocols around the aircraft and the passenger areas of airports.

That may include more bomb-sniffing dogs around the perimeter, new technology, enhanced screening procedures and more “preclearance” locations in airports, officials said.

“These measures will be seen and unseen to the traveling public,” officials said.

Airlines will be implementing the measures in stages, but the DHS would not elaborate on the exact timeline or details of the new directives for security reasons.

Officials did emphasize, however, that the airlines will have plenty of time to implement the procedures and said that many carriers have already been stepping up their aviation security, so it shouldn’t be difficult to comply. They also urged passengers to consult with their airlines before flying.

“We believe 99 percent of carriers will adhere to these measures,” officials said.

The administration imposed a laptop ban earlier this year on U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa, which the DHS said was necessary because terrorists have been pursuing innovative methods to smuggle bombs into commercial flights.

The electronics restrictions at those airports can be lifted, however, if they comply with the new aviation security measures, senior officials said Wednesday.

The enhanced protocols may be a relief for the airline industry and other stakeholders who pushed back against the potential laptop ban expansion, which they feared would create chaos and hurt their business.

European officials, who have been engaged in high-level talks for weeks over the issue, urged the U.S. to consider alternative options to the ban.

The U.S. sent technical experts to Brussels this week to discuss the security measures further.