The head of the international police agency Interpol says a “major airline in Malaysia” soon will start checking travellers’ passports against its global database of 42 million stolen or lost travel documents.
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 last month revealed a gaping loophole in aviation security when Interpol said its database had information on the theft of two passports used to board it — but national authorities hadn’t checked the database.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble told reporters at the United Nations on Friday that the airline in Malaysia, which he did not name, will begin using the agency’s system within four to six weeks.
“We hope to have the government of Malaysia do the same,” Nobel said.
Malaysia is also home to budget carrier AirAsia. An Interpol press officer said the agency is not yet ready to announce the name of the airline that will begin checking documents against the global database.
Noble said less than 10 countries do systematic screening of travel documents and warned that far more action is needed to close “this glaring security gap” and strengthen global aviation safety.
More than 1 billion times last year, travellers boarded planes without their passports being checked against Interpol’s database, the Lyon-based police body has said.
“The time to act is now,” Noble told a U.N. meeting after the press briefing. “Stolen or lost travel documents are still in the hands of far too many international terrorists.”
In the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, Malaysian police determined that the two men travelling on stolen passports were Iranians seeking to migrate illegally to Europe and were not terrorists.
The Interpol stolen or lost travel documents database draws on information from 167 countries. It was searched more than 800 million times last year — but one in eight searches was conducted by the United Arab Emirates alone. The U.S. and Britain are other big users, and France and Switzerland routinely check it too, Interpol officials said.
The agency now has a pilot initiative called “I-Checkit” that will let businesspeople in the travel, banking and hospitality industries screen documents against the lost documents database when customers book a flight, check into a hotel room or open a financial account.