By Emma Kelly, Eamonn Duff and Sara Bloomfield, The Washington Post
LONDON – Britain will require commercial airlines based in six countries to stop flying from a section of their routes over the Arabian peninsula beginning Sunday.
According to Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, airlines that fly over Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Eritrea will be asked to divert their flights over another region until further notice.
The decision follows a review of “all the evidence available to date and a decision to reinforce safety measures already in place,” the authority’s website says.
The ban is intended to protect passengers’ lives in the face of an apparent increase in terrorism threats across the region, the CAA says. It is separate from a separate action by British Airways late last month – imposed after U.S. authorities issued a worldwide travel ban of mainly Muslim countries – which will, from Sunday, cover flights from the majority of airlines serving that route.
The CAA says it decided to take action further out of “an overriding need to protect passengers’ safety” as it bans most flights going through the same five countries.
“If a country asks us to take action, we assess all the evidence and put in place the necessary measures to protect safety,” the authority said.
The country of origin of any aircraft or flight it bans depends on the flight path, the CAA said.
“We have made this decision following security assessments, an examination of all the information available to us, and a balance of what we know about security threats and the economic impacts of the measures,” the authority said.
The CAA said there had been “no confirmation from any of the countries” and that it has no way of verifying or stopping terrorist groups from changing their plans.
But it said such moves were an “effective deterrent to anyone thinking of carrying out an attack in the United Kingdom.”
The Guardian reported Saturday that the decision had been taken after a suspected bomb was found on a flight from Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt to London’s Gatwick airport. The detonator and electric components for a device were traced to an electronic component manufactured in the UAE. A Home Office official declined to comment on the report.
The rapid rise in the use of mobile phones and blow torches and a proliferation of state-issued cellphones have “changed the all-important role of the cell phone in an attack,” said Mark Bale, professor of security studies at the University of Buckingham. “We are much more likely to hear of a device, such as one in a suicide bombing, designed to build a bomb using hand-held devices because security awareness has changed the situation.”
The current worldwide travel ban for passengers aboard affected countries’ flights includes: