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US ends laptop ban on Middle Eastern airlines

The US Transportation Security Administration said on Monday it has lifted a ban on passengers on Saudi Arabian Airlines carrying large electronics like laptops onboard US-bound flights, the last carrier under the restrictions.

In March, US officials imposed restrictions on passengers carrying laptops and other large electronic gear in cabins on nine airlines, most of which were Middle Eastern carriers, to address the potential threat of hidden explosives.

Last month, US officials announced new security requirements for all airlines rather than an expansion of the laptop ban and have been dropping the restrictions from airlines as they boosted security.

A TSA spokesman said the US government had lifted the restrictions at Saudi Arabian Airlines’ main hub in Jeddah at King Abdulaziz International Airport on Monday. US government officials will visit Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport “later this week to confirm compliance there as well,” spokesman James Gregory said.

On Thursday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a revised directive to airlines around the world in response to requests that it clarify aviation security measures scheduled to begin taking effect later this week.

An airline official briefed on the matter said the directive gave airlines more flexibility and additional time to obtain explosive trace detection equipment. The official was not authorized to discuss sensitive security issues with the media and requested anonymity.

The directive includes technical adjustments, agency officials said, declining to release the text. European airlines have been pushing for changes to meet the new requirements.

DHS has said that it could impose new restrictions on laptops if airlines do not make security upgrades.

European and US officials told Reuters that airlines have until July 19, to put in place increased explosive trace detection screening and other measures and 120 days to comply with other security measures, including enhanced screening of airline passengers.

The new requirements include enhanced passenger screening at foreign airports, increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas and expanded canine screening. They affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States, on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries.

A group of airline groups, including the International Air Transport Association, criticized the new requirements in a July 14 letter to US officials saying it is a “fundamental shift away from the risk-based approach” and said it would be “extremely difficult” to “meet the deadlines because of the lack of availability of screening equipment technology and resources.” The letter was reported earlier by Politico.

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