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International airlines rush to meet deadline

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At least eight of 58 airlines flying international routes into the United States say they will electronically submit passenger manifests to the U.S. Customs Service by Thursday, with several other carriers saying they will cooperate but might not meet the deadline, officials said.

In a letter to the airlines last week, Customs Service Commissioner Robert Bonner said arriving international passengers on airlines that do not provide a list, starting Thursday, will have all checked and carry-on luggage hand-searched or electronically screened.

Russia's Aeroflot, Malev Hungarian, Pakistan International and Royal Jordanian have all agreed, as have U.S. carriers Air Comet, Falcon Air Express, Gulfstream International Airlines and Planet Airways.

Numerous other airlines, including Saudi Arabian Airlines, have told the Customs Service they want to cooperate but may not make the Thursday deadline.

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Regardless of their intentions, Customs officials pledged to follow through on the inspections.

"Those for 100 percent search will go through one set of lanes," explained Customs spokesman Dennis Murphy. "People who aren't going to be searched will go through another set much more quickly." Most of the airlines cited by the Customs Service are small international carriers or small, regional U.S. carriers and charters that operate just a handful of international flights into the United States. New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, Miami International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport will likely be most effected -- and delayed -- by the new policy, officials said.

Approximately five airlines on the list whose only international flights are out of Canada -- where passengers are already pre-screened by customs agents -- will not be affected.

America West, the largest U.S. airline on the list, says the bags of its international passengers are screened on arrival in Phoenix, Arizona, so it expects no major delays. Spokesman Jim Stabourin said the carrier's only international flights come from Mexico and Canada, and the airline would be compliant by as early as mid-December.

Currently 85 percent of international carriers already comply voluntarily with U.S. requests for passenger manifests. The information is fed into a 3-year-old U.S. Customs computer system called the Advance Passenger Information System.

Last year, officials said, the system reviewed 57 million travelers on about 387,000 flights that entered the United States.

A new aviation security bill signed into law last week gave airlines with international flights 60 days to begin providing the passenger manifests. But Bonner, citing security concerns, said the measure would be implemented sooner.


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