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US ends laptop ban on Middle East carriers

Travellers who want to use a laptop on US bound flights originating in the Middle East can rejoice as the Trump administration has completely lifted its controversial ban on carrying large electronics onboard.

Saudi Arabia's King Khalid International Airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed in a tweet late on Wednesday.

The kingdom's civil aviation authorities also confirmed the move, saying it had informed flagship carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) that the restrictions were  lifted after a US team inspected security measures at airports in Riyadh and Jeddah.

In March, Washington barred all electronic devices larger than a mobile phone in the cabins of direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa, only allowing them in checked luggage.

Read more: US holds off on laptop ban on flights from Europe

The ban was brought in after intelligence officials learned of efforts by the Islamic State group to produce a bomb that could be hidden inside such devices.

Washington said it would abolish the ban for companies that implemented new safety measures. A group of airlines - including Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Kuwait Airways, EgyptAir and Royal Air Maroc - have already been recently cleared.

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Ineffective ban

Industry group, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), criticized the laptop ban as ineffective, as security experts argued that militants could travel to the United States via Europe or elsewhere where the restrictions didn't apply.

Middle East carriers have blamed Trump's travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from visiting the United States, for a downturn in demand on US routes.

However, the visa ban on the citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen remains in place despite having limited effect after several US courts challenged the restrictions.

New safety derictive

US officials lifted the ban after visiting the 10 airports in the region over the past three weeks to confirm new security measures announced last month were being properly implemented.

The new requirements include enhanced passenger screening at foreign airports, increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas, and expanded canine screening. In total these enhanced requirements affect 325,000 airline passengers on about 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States, on 180 airlines from 280 airports in 105 countries. Airlines that fail to meet the new security requirements could face restrictions on in-cabin electronics.

Airline groups criticized the new requirements in a July 14 letter to US officials saying they constitute a "fundamental shift away from the risk-based approach," adding it would be "extremely difficult" to meet the deadlines because of the lack of availability of screening equipment technology and resources.

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Travelers irked by laptop flight ban

uhe/tr (Reuters, AP)

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