GENEVA - Spotting fake passports like those carried by two travellers on the missing Malaysian passenger jet is the job of border police and not the airlines, the chief of the industry's global body IATA said on Wednesday.
Tony Tyler told a news conference that only governments through their police forces had access to a huge official database of stolen or lost travel documents that could confirm if they were being used illegally.
"If there is a problem with border control and invalid passports, that is an issue which governments have to step up to and address," said Tyler, whose International Air Transport Association links over 90 per cent of world's airlines.
The international police agency Interpol said only a handful of governments from its 190 member countries actually made use of the database at its headquarters in Lyon, France.
The issue of who might be blamed for letting two young Iranians onto Malaysian Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 at KL International Airport last Saturday has been under review since the jetliner disappeared soon after take-off.
It was carrying 239 passengers and crew on a flight to Beijing. An international search and rescue operation across a wide area of Southeast Asia has not yet located the plane, a Boeing 777, or any wreckage.
Initially there was speculation that the Iranians may have been part of a terror network, but this idea was later largely discarded when they were identified as probable asylum seekers, one of whom had close family in Germany.
Tyler, with IATA since 2011 after five years as chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, implicitly exonerated MAS - under fire over handling of the plane's disappearance - for the failure to stop the pair boarding.
ROUTINE VISUAL CHECKS
Airline staff at check-in desks routinely verify that names on their passenger lists match those on passports. "But that is as far as the responsibility goes," he said.
Carriers spent "millions" annually on providing more than 60 governments with passport and other details on passengers flying into their territory." We are therefore entitled to expect that border controls do what they have to," he added.
In Lyon, Interpol also indirectly pointed the finger at Malaysian border controls for allowing the two Iranians, who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on their own passports, to board the plane.
An official told Reuters Global Aerospace Correspondent Tim Hepher that government agencies of fewer than 20 nations - a group in which Asia was "under-represented" - systematically check passports at their borders with the database.
But two airlines, Qatar Airways and Air Arabia, had agreed to pilot a scheme allowing them to provide details on their passengers for checking against Interpol's stolen passport list, the official said.
In Geneva, spokesman Anthony Concil said IATA was aware of this. But at the news conference, Tyler indicated the carriers would be reluctant to take on checks themselves. "It is not a job for airlines, it is a job for governments," he declared.