18 May 2017

DHS to Expand The Laptop Ban Over European Flights

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering to expand the ban on laptops, tablets and larger smartphones on-board flights coming in from Europe. Representatives from the DHS met with European officials on Wednesday to discuss the new restriction. The meeting was an initiative by European administrators who asked for clarification on the parameters. According to a senior US official who briefed reporters after the meeting, the DHS is developing a strategy against the constantly evolving terrorist innovations, such as “putting explosives in consumer devices.” Later, the representatives from both sides, arrived with a joint statement, in which they stated that they haven’t confirmed any concrete strategy yet, but “reaffirmed their commitment to continue working closely together” and decided to meet again next week in Washington.

Earlier this year, the DHS prohibited electronic devices on board nine foreign airlines coming from ten airports in eight countries, in the Middle East and Africa. A few days later, the UK government issued a similar ban, which included six domestic airlines, including, easyJet, British Airways, Thomson and Thomas Cook, and applied for all airports in six countries – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey. The restriction caused a negative reaction for many airlines, and the Air Transport Association (IATA), declared that the ban won’t deliver effective security measures and will only create “commercial distortions”. They also pointed out that such a restriction is not a solution in the long-term.

According to Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the DHS said that the final draft of the ban will include European flights has not been yet confirmed. However, the discussion with the EU representatives was already criticised by many travel associations. As Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the US-based Business Travel Coalition, said the ban “could create an economic tsunami of the likes of which terrorists are dreaming of.”

There are 400 flights and around 85,000 people travel between Europe and the US on a daily basis. The global consulting company ICF, estimated that nearly 30% of these passengers are businessmen who depend on their electronic devices for most of their work. According to the ICF, if laptops, tablets and larger smartphones are banned on board, 1 million hours of productivity would be lost per day, and the IATA estimates that lost time would amount to a $1bn.

Additionally, the potential ban caused protests from the British Airline Pilots’ Association, which issued a statement warning that the risk of electronic devices stored in cargo holds could catch fire without anyone noticing, is far bigger than the danger of having them in the cabins. “If these devices are kept in the hold, the risk is that if a fire occurs the results can be catastrophic; indeed, there have been two crashes where lithium batteries have been cited in the accident reports,” a statement by the British Airline Pilots Association outlined.

Since the original ban was issued in March, the affected companies have been trying to find the least damaging solutions for their customers. Some of the biggest carriers, such as Emirates, have allowed passengers to use their devices prior to boarding “until the last possible moment.”