US Homeland Security introduces new rules for private planes

The US Homeland Security Department has announced new rules aimed at preventing terrorists from using private airplanes to enter the US. On the eve of the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described the lack of tighter security for private planes as a major gap.

The new Homeland Security rules require private pilots coming from overseas to give the United States the names, birth dates and other information about their passengers one hour before takeoff. They have provide the information even now, but not until they are close to landing.

However, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke clarified that there was "no information indicating a specific or imminent threat" from private planes. Security experts have warned for years that the most likely way a weapon of mass destruction will come into the US is on a private plane.

The new rule will give Customs agents time to check names against terrorist watch lists before flights take off on their way to the US. Ultimately, Homeland Security hopes to have a system to physically screen passengers overseas, before they board planes to the US.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said it has no objection to pilots providing names of passengers, but it objected to rules that require the names be sent electronically. Some foreign airports don't have the capability to transmit the electronic information, an association representative said.

The new rules will affect roughly 400 private planes that land in the USA each day. To take effect in mid-to-late 2008, they will apply to both US- and foreign-based aircraft.