WASHINGTON — Six passenger airlines that fly to the U.S. from five Middle East countries must start providing more information about cargo aboard their planes because of concerns about terrorist plots, federal security officials announced Monday.
The Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection developed the additional requirements because of persistent threats to aviation from the five countries: Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
“The continued threat to commercial aviation calls for enhanced screening and security to protect international air travel direct to the United States,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.
He signed the order Thursday to require more information about inbound cargo, and it went into effect Monday.
The airlines were notified during the weekend about the additional requirements because they sometimes carry cargo in the bellies of their passenger planes:
• EgyptAir flying out of Cairo International Airport.
• Royal Jordanian flying out of Queen Alia International Airport.
• Saudia, also known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, flying out of King Abdulaziz International Airport and King Khalid International Airport.
• Qatar Airways flying out of Doha.
• Etihad Airways flying out of Abu Dhabi; Emirates flying out of Dubai.
More about airline and cargo security in the Middle East:
These countries and airlines were also among the first targeted for extra security under President Trump’s travel ban and a laptop ban on electronics larger than cellphones.
Those measures were criticized for targeting Muslim-majority countries. The latest version of the travel ban is being challenged at the Supreme Court.
But the security agencies say they are focusing their efforts on areas where the risks are greatest. TSA tightened security for all personal electronics in July. And TSA began greater scrutiny of international travelers flying to the U.S. in October, including interviews at departure airports.
“We are working around the clock to raise the baseline of aviation security at home and abroad, and securing cargo is a key factor in this mission,” Pekoske said.
CBP embarked in October 2012 on getting more information earlier about cargo heading to the U.S. through a voluntary program called Air Cargo Advance Screening. Participants provide information about the cargo “at the earliest point practicable prior to loading of the cargo onto the aircraft.”
The information requested includes the shipper’s name and address, the recipient’s name and address, a precise description of the cargo with a six-digit tariff number, information on whether the shipment will be divided, the number of separate packages contained in each shipment and the total weight.
The program began two years after security officials foiled a terror plot to ship explosives to the U.S. in computer-printer cartridges. The packages were initially placed aboard passenger flights from Yemen before connecting in other countries with freight airlines.
Another plot was foiled in Australia, where the suspects allegedly aimed to place explosives in a cargo shipment on a passenger flight in July 2017.
To thwart those sorts of plots, airlines carrying cargo to the U.S. now voluntarily provide CBP with information for about 70% to 80% of individual air shipments.
The reporting program began with a six-month term but has been extended repeatedly. CBP officials have said the information could eventually be required for all air cargo. But the program has remained mostly voluntarily because it would require foreign airlines to invest more in technology and policies to track shipments more closely.
For now, the five Mideast countries and their airlines are joining Turkey in being required to participate.
“In close coordination with CBP, I directed specific carriers to implement strict security requirements based upon recent information that established a need to implement additional security measures for air cargo bound to the United States on both passenger and cargo aircraft,” Pekoske said.