March 27, 2017 / 7:26 PM / 5 months ago

Qatar Airways chief says laptop ban not designed to hurt Gulf carriers

LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways' chief executive said on Monday he did not believe the ban on carrying most electronics in the cabins of passenger flights to the United States from eight Muslim majority countries was designed to hurt Gulf airlines.

The U.S. introduced new security measures on March 25 banning electronics larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins on direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, including Qatar.

The announcement of the restrictions prompted media reports that the move, enacted by President Donald Trump's administration, is to protect U.S. airlines by stifling the growth of the fast-expanding Gulf carriers and Turkish Airlines, a theory dismissed by U.S. officials and many experts.

Gulf airlines Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways have been battling a lobbying campaign in Washington by U.S. carriers that accuse them of receiving unfair subsidies, charges that the Gulf carriers deny.

"I don't think it is fair for me to say it is targeting Gulf airlines," Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker told reporters in London on the sidelines of a Qatar investment forum.

"As far as I am concerned it is a security measure and we have to comply with that."

The regulations, prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices in electronic gadgets, state that electronics larger than a mobile phone - including laptops and tablets - must be stowed with checked baggage on U.S.-bound passenger flights.

Industry experts argue the ban could weaken passenger demand for the Gulf carriers on U.S. routes, especially among business travellers who use the long flying time to complete work on their laptops.

"At the moment it is too early to say if it will affect our business," Al Baker said.

Fellow Gulf carriers Emirates and Etihad said last week they would allow passengers to hand over electronics banned from the cabin to staff at the boarding gates who would then stow the devices.

Al Baker said the airline has taken steps to mitigate the impact of the new restrictions on passengers by allowing them to hand over electronics "at the spot where they go through the screening process".

It wasn't immediately clear which process Al Baker was referring to.

Passengers traveling to the U.S. from Doha, and other airports in the region, have to pass through a second security check immediately prior to boarding. (Writing by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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