The capital of the United Arab Emirates became the first city to be exempt from a U.S. ban on laptop computers being in the cabins of airplanes coming from the Mideast, the country's flag carrier said Sunday.
Long-haul airline Etihad said it welcomed the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which comes "subject to enhanced security measures" at Abu Dhabi International Airport. That airport already has a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that allows passengers to clear screening they'd otherwise have to go through when landing in America.
Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said U.S. officials already had seen that "the measures have been implemented correctly and to the full extent required" in Abu Dhabi. He said American monitors would make further visits to ensure the checks were being done properly.
"The enhanced security measures, both seen and unseen, include enhanced screening of passengers and electronic devices," Lapan said, declining to elaborate. "We commend Etihad for working swiftly to implement these additional measures. Their efforts are a model for both foreign and domestic airlines."
Abu Dhabi International Airport did not respond to a request for comment. The airport is home to Etihad, which has over 120 planes in its fleet and 204 aircraft on order. It operates 45 flights a week between Abu Dhabi and six cities in the U.S.
The U.S. ban, first announced in March as a security measure, now applies to nonstop U.S.-bound flights from nine international airports in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai in the UAE.
In late May, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he was considering banning laptops from the passenger cabins of all international flights to and from the United States. Kelly's comments came after U.S. President Donald Trump shared highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State group wanting to use laptops to target aircraft with senior Russian officials visiting the White House.
The laptop ban, as well as a Trump administration travel ban on six predominantly Muslim nations, has hurt Gulf carriers. Dubai-based Emirates has slashed 20 percent of its flights to America in the wake of those decisions. The airline also has been trying to get the laptop ban lifted for its direct flights to the U.S. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dubai International Airport, Emirates' home, is the world's busiest international air travel hub. Meanwhile, long-haul carrier Qatar Airways has been hurt amid a diplomatic dispute with Arab nations that has seen its own routes in the region cut off.
All this also comes amid a wider dispute between Gulf airlines and American carriers, which accuse the Middle East airlines of flooding the market with capacity while receiving billions of dollars of unfair government subsidies. The Gulf carriers all vigorously deny that.
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