Interpol has given two airlines direct access to its database of stolen passports in a test project intended to make it harder for criminals to misuse suspect documents, the police organisation’s leader said on Tuesday.

It’s not known whether stolen passports had anything to do with Saturday’s disappearance of a Boeing 777 bound from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said the organisation is testing how to give airlines rather than just border control authorities the ability to tap into the database directly. Only a handful of countries actively use the database. Mr. Noble said more than one billion times last year, travellers boarded planes without their passports being checked against the Lyon-based police body’s database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents.

Air Arabia and Qatar Airways were chosen to test the idea because they approached Interpol and expressed an interest, said Michael O’Connell, director of Interpol’s operational police support directorate.

In essence, the two airlines will be able to query the database but not gain direct access to it, in a programme called I-Checkit for private sector companies which could one day include financial institutions or hotels too, officials said.

The Interpol chief said stolen passports have been a known problem since at least the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center — “We know that the terrorist mastermind in that bombing was carrying a stolen Iraqi passport to cross borders.”

It takes less than a second for countries to query the database via Interpol software and an Internet connection, once a passport is scanned.

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