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Passports needed to fly to U.S. starting Jan. 23

Travellers flying to the United States will officially need passports starting Jan. 23, according to the Homeland Security Secretary.

Travellers flying to the United States will officially need passports starting Jan. 23, according to the Homeland Security Secretary.

Michael Chertoff told the Associated Press that the department would officially announce plans on Wednesday.

The original date of implementation as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was Jan. 8, but officials missed a 60-day deadline.

Chertoff said that figures from September indicated that 90 per cent of passengers leaving from Canadian airports were already using passports.

The requirements will also apply to all Canadians and Americans entering the United States by land and sea by mid-2009, more than a year later than originally scheduled due to complaints from business groups and politicians on both sides of the border.

Last month, U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins said a proposed high-tech identification card for Americans would speed up cross-border travel. It came just days after the U.S. State Department announced plans for a wallet-sized passport card, good for 10 years.

The development of the card had been hampered by technology issues, which also delayed the State Department's original plans.

The card will use radio frequency identification technology to link the card to a database containing biographical data and a photograph.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire earlier this month proposed that handheld driver's licence scanners, already in use at some military installation gates, be tried for a three-month test program at the Blaine border crossing south of Vancouver and at the Port Angeles border crossing south of Victoria.

Gregoire said she hoped it could be studied as an alternative to requiring pass cards or passports.

Statistics indicate that only 23 per cent of Americans have a valid passport. The new air rules will also be a change for travellers from Mexico and Bermuda.

With files from the Associated Press