April 23, 2017 / 4:38 PM / 4 months ago

Interview - New Zealand considering extra security on Middle East flights

DUBAI (Reuters) - New Zealand is considering additional security checks on flights from Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, its transport minister said on Sunday.

The new rules would follow similar measures introduced last month by the United States, Britain and Australia.

New Zealand's civil aviation authority "is assessing the evidence to determine what is appropriate," Transport Minister Simon Bridges told Reuters in an interview in Dubai.

Additional security measures would affect passengers flying from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Doha, Qatar, where carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways, respectively, fly direct to New Zealand.

Bridges said a decision to add new checks would be made independent of the government by the aviation authority .

He declined to say when a decision could be made. He did not say what measures were being considered.

On March 25, the United States banned electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins of direct flights from eight countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, including the Qatar and the UAE.

Britain followed the same day with similar measures, including banning larger electronics on flights from some Middle East countries but not Qatar and the UAE where it instead requested additional security checks.

Australia's additional checks on passengers and baggage apply to Qatar and the UAE as they are the only Middle East countries with which it has direct air links.

The additional security measures were made based on intelligence suggesting flights could be targeted for attack.

"What we have seen from them is a less than uniform way of doing things," Bridges said of the different measures introduced by the United States, Britain and Australia, all close allies of New Zealand.

Last week, Emirates said it was cutting flights to the United States after new restrictions weakened demand.

Bridges said he is scheduled to meet with Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum this week where he would make clear that New Zealand is open to additional services.

Emirates flies to New Zealand cities Auckland and Christchurch, mostly via Australia, although it operates a direct daily flight to Auckland. Qatar Airways only flies direct to Auckland.

Bridges, who is also minister for economic development, is in the UAE to formally announce New Zealand's participation in the 2020 World Expo in Dubai.

New Zealand has committed NZ$53.3 million ($37.5 million) to build its country's pavilion to host its companies at the trade fair, Wellington announced on Sunday.

Bridges visit is one of several senior ministerial trips to the region so far this year as New Zealand pushes to conclude a free trade agreement (FTA) with the six member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"We are hopeful over the next year or so we will get somewhere with that," he said.

The UAE has said finalising the trade deal with New Zealand is a priority.

Along with the UAE and Qatar, the GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.

($1 = 1.4223 New Zealand dollars)

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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