Airlines ordered to speed scrutiny of no-fly lists

An Emirates airline passenger jet taxis on the An Emirates airline passenger jet taxis on the tarmac on April 20, 2010. Photo Credit: AP File

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The federal government Wednesday directed airlines to check names added to no-fly lists against passenger manifests within two hours instead of within 24 hours, after the suspect in the attempted bombing of Times Square succeeded in boarding a Dubai-bound plane.

The change is designed to make certain that airlines scour the no-fly list sooner after any updates, said a Transportation Security Administration official and a federal law enforcement official, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.

As would-be bomber Faisal Shahzad's ability to make it onto Emirates Flight 202 on Monday night continued to cause scrutiny, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and two colleagues called on President Barack Obama to immediately require the airlines to flag any passengers paying cash for a ticket - as Shahzad did.

Schumer, in a statement, said Shahzad was "caught in the nick of time, but he should never had been allowed to purchase a plane ticket."

Paying cash for an airline ticket now singles out a passenger for additional body scans but doesn't spur the addition of his or her name to a no-fly list, a Homeland Security official said.

Before the change regarding the no-fly list, airlines were required to check expedited additions to the no-fly list within 24 hours of a scheduled departure, the TSA official said.

An airline official said no formal notification of the change had been received from the Department of Homeland Security but that the airline had been told the change was imminent.

Federal agents with Customs and Border Patrol took Shahzad into custody before the flight took off from Kennedy Airport. The agents, already looking for Shahzad, checked the no-fly list and discovered his name about 30 minutes before the flight's departure about 11 p.m.

Emirates said it had notified authorities that Shahzad had purchased a ticket with cash, but that notification came after Shahzad was in custody.

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he will call for a hearing on the Shahzad case.

"I'm not making excuses for anyone, but within the realm of human nature, you could imagine how a name could slip through," he said. "But you add to it that he purchased the ticket with cash, that's a little harder to explain away."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she supports fining airlines that don't check passenger manifests against the no-fly list.

David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said the industry would "comply with all government security recommendations."

Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Susan Elliott said it was unclear what impact the change may have on airline operations.

Shahzad's arrest is the latest case to put the no-fly list in the spotlight. On Christmas 2009, questions about who was being added to the list arose after Umar Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb concealed inside his underwear during a Detroit-bound flight. Changes to improve aviation security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have included creation of the TSA to handle airport security and reinforced cockpit doors.

King said the Times Square bomber case illustrates the need for a change that's already in the works: having the TSA take over the job of checking flight manifests against the no-fly list.

The federal agency is to assume that role for domestic flights in several months and for international flights by the end of the year.

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