Arab airlines first to use Interpol stolen passport lists

Photo: Arab airlines first to use Interpol stolen passport lists / Arabic region

Two Arab airlines have been named as the first to screen passengers against Interpol's vast database of lost and stolen travel documents, amid an ongoing search for a Malaysia Airlines jet Al Arabia reported.

The international police organization said on Tuesday it would allow Qatar Airways and Air Arabia to search its databases to verify passengers' details, AP reported. Air Arabia later denied knowledge of such a plan, a spokesperson told Al Arabiya News.

"I have announced today that Qatar Airways and Air Arabia are two airlines that have committed themselves to making sure that all passengers boarding their planes will have their passport data screened against Interpol's database," Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble told reporters at its headquarters, AP reported.

The move is designed as a test project that, if continued, would see more airlines check passenger passports against Interpol's database before they are allowed to fly.

Interpol's database was previously only searchable by national authorities such as border police. But the test could see the police agency open up its database to more airlines and private-sector companies.

Despite the database being available to authorities to search, AP reported that only a handful of countries actively use it - primarily the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.

Noble said that travelers boarded planes without their passports being checked against the database more than 1 billion times in 2013, AP reported.

Air Arabia and Qatar were chosen to test the idea because they approached Interpol and expressed an interest, said Michael O'Connell, director of Interpol's operational police support directorate.

Air Arabia however denied knowledge of any agreement with Interpol.

"As far as Air Arabia is concerned, we don't have knowledge of any agreement signed with the International Police Organization with regards to test projects as such," a spokesperson told Al Arabiya News. "While we fully support and adhere to all national and international procedures, we follow the UAE state regulations and guidelines in this regards."

Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aviation analyst Saj Ahmad of StrategicAeroResearch.com, said Interpol's move to allow airlines to check the database was long overdue.

"This sort of checking should have been in place post 9/11, not because of what's happening with the missing Malaysian 777," he said.

Despite this, the system is not "100 percent error-free", the analyst said.

"It can invariably flag up genuine passengers as suspects incorrectly if the Interpol database is not updated or checked routinely," he said. "But as with any security concept, the true value of its longevity is implementation and that will determine whether it's a system worth employing."

Ahmad said he expects other airlines to follow the two Arab carriers in signing up to the Interpol system.

"No airline will want to be accused of passport checking incompetence. Given security checks and increased monitoring we have at airports, why this is not mandatory is beyond me," he told Al Arabiya News.

Dubai's Emirates airline would not comment on whether it planned to implement the system. "The security of our passengers and crew is a top priority. We work closely with all relevant authorities, but for obvious reasons, we don't discuss security details," said an Emirates spokesperson.

Abu Dhabi's Etihad did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Al Arabiya News.

Ahmad cautioned that the system could bring extra costs to passengers in the long run. "Interpol will want redress for it and whether airports pass on this levy to airlines or passengers directly, somewhere along the line, someone will have to shoulder the costs," he said.

It is not yet clear whether stolen passports had anything to do with Saturday's disappearance of a Boeing 777 bound from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing with 239 people on board. Interpol yesterday released an image of two Iranians who used valid Iranian passports to get to Malaysia, then boarded the flight with stolen European passports.

The search for the missing jet continues.

Follow us on Twitter @TRENDNewsAgency