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US may demand foreign flight list

Proposal targets potential terrorists

WASHINGTON -- The US government plans to force foreign airlines flying over American soil to turn over the names of passengers on board or check the names against US government watch lists in an effort to prevent terrorists from entering US airspace.

Under current rules, overseas carriers are required to provide passenger manifests to US officials within 15 minutes of takeoff if they are to land in the United States, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Officials have been concerned that terrorists may try to hijack a plane over the United States and crash it into a building, as occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. But officials acknowledge that no credible intelligence exists indicating such a plot. ''We are currently considering a measure that would require foreign carriers to vet their passenger manifests against the 'no-fly' list and 'selectee' lists on overflights," TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said. The no-fly list is a secret list of thousands of names of known or suspected terrorists who may pose a threat to US aviation. The list contains the names of individuals who are not known terrorists but present a possible threat to the airplane.

The proposal has angered European, Mexican, and Canadian airlines, which operate most of the 500 estimated daily overflights. If foreign airlines do not comply with the order, which is expected to be issued in coming weeks, they may have to reroute flights, adding time and cost to the journeys. At least one carrier, Aeromexico, says the rule would violate international aviation agreements.

The TSA's proposal, discussed in recent days with foreign leaders, was prompted by a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Mexico on April 8 that was prohibited from flying over American airspace because two passengers were found to be on the US government's no-fly list.

The KLM flight, a specially configured 747 with 278 passengers and 15 horses on board, was five hours into its journey when Mexican authorities alerted US officials about two Saudi passengers on board. TSA officials decided not to allow the plane to continue on its usual route over the United States.

KLM decided to turn the plane around for the five-hour flight back to Amsterdam.

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