Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

Kiwis avoid uncharged phones, laptops ban

Passengers queue at the security checkpoint at the Rhein-Main airport in Frankfurt. The US govt has announced it won't allow uncharged cellphones onto flights to the US. Photo / AP
Passengers queue at the security checkpoint at the Rhein-Main airport in Frankfurt. The US govt has announced it won't allow uncharged cellphones onto flights to the US. Photo / AP

Kiwis flying from New Zealand to the United States will not be required to undergo strict new security measures being introduced for uncharged mobile phones and laptops.

It comes after the US declared it will not allow phones or laptops, in particular Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, onto US-bound flights from some airports if the devices are not charged.

However, New Zealand airlines have not been asked to implement the measure, an Aviation Security Services spokesman confirmed.

This was good news, as it meant New Zealand was a reasonably safe place, he said.

"Any airline that was flying direct to America from its point of departure would be asked, if it was in a risk area, to implement some additional procedures, but New Zealand has not been asked at this stage."

Any such request would be made to the airline, and not directly to the Aviation Security Services or the Civil Aviation Authority.

The new regulations are part of the US Transportation Security Administration's bid to step up surveillance amid concerns terrorists are plotting to blow up an airliner.

Passengers may be asked to turn on their electronic devices at airport checkpoints, and if they did not have power they would not be allowed onto the plane, the TSA announced.

Officials in the US are concerned that such electronic devices could be used as a bomb, particularly by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamist Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

It was feared terrorists had found a way to turn phones into bombs which could avoid detection, the US officials said. There are also concerns undetectable bombs could be built into shoes.

Passengers on US-bound flights from Europe, the Middle East and Africa will be forced to undergo the extra security on their phones, laptops, tablets or other electronic devices. If a device does not turn on, the passenger will be subject to "additional screening".

Read more:
US orders tighter airport security amid evolving threats

US officials singled out smartphones including iPhones made by Apple Inc and Galaxy phones made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd for extra security checks on U.S.-bound direct flights from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

US security officials said they fear bombmakers from the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have figured out how to turn the phones into explosive devices that can avoid detection.

They also are concerned that hard-to-detect bombs could be built into shoes, said the officials, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A US official said that other electronic devices carried by passengers also are likely to receive more intense scrutiny.

Airlines or airport operators that fail to strengthen security could face bans on flights entering the United States, the officials said.

The US Homeland Security Department announced on Wednesday plans to step up security checks, but they offered few details on how airlines and airports will implement them.

An official familiar with the matter said the United States believes that while it is possible there may be some additional delays at security checkpoints, at most major airports passengers will not be seriously inconvenienced.

The official said most passengers taking long-distance flights arrive well in advance of scheduled departures, leaving time for extra screening.

But he said the United States could not rule out disruptions in countries where airport infrastructure and security procedures are less sophisticated.

US-based airlines had little to say about the enhanced security. American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the Department of Homeland Security had been in contact with American on the issue, but declined to comment further.

Luke Punzenberger, a spokesman for United Airlines said: 'We work closely with federal officials on security matters, but we are not able to discuss the details of those efforts.'

US security agencies fear bombmakers from AQAP and the Islamist Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, are collaborating on plots to attack U.S.- or Europe-bound planes with bombs concealed on foreign fighters carrying Western passports, the officials said.

AQAP has a track record of plotting such attacks. Its innovative bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, built an underwear bomb used in a failed 2009 effort to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner, and his devices were implicated in other plots.

There was no immediate indication U.S. intelligence had detected a specific plot or timeframe for any attack.

US officials say the United States has acquired evidence that Nusra and AQAP operatives have tested new bomb designs in Syria, where Nusra is one of the main Islamist groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

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