The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has expressed alarm at the possibility of an extension to passengers departing European airports of the U.S. ban on large personal electronic devices in the cabins of airliners as officials from the Department of Homeland Security met with European Commission officials on Wednesday. In a letter to EC commissioner for transport Violeta Bulc and U.S. Homeland Security secretary John Kelly, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac urged the adoption of several short-term measures as an alternative to the broad extension of the current ban on devices such as laptop computers from several origin airports in the Middle East and North Africa. The measures, said de Juniac, would mitigate the danger of a large number of lithium battery-powered devices in airplanes’ cargo holds, a prospect IATA considers an unacceptable risk.
The measures IATA recommends include the use of explosive trace detection at primary and secondary checkpoints, visual inspection of PEDs for signs of tampering, passenger questioning about the purposes and origin of the device, the possibility of turning on the device to help determine its provenance, the deployment of “behavioral detection” officers and canines, recognition of trusted traveler programs and the identification of high or low-risk passengers, and increased training for screeners to detect PED-based threats.
While the current U.S. ban affects 350 flights per week, the expansion of the ban to Europe as a whole would affect more than 2,500, estimates IATA. Out of 31 million passengers departing European airports for the U.S. in 2016, 3.5 million connected from flights coming from outside Europe.
IATA estimates that an extension of the ban would result in a $1.1 billion annual cost to passengers alone, including $655 million worth of productive time to business travelers, $216 million worth of travel time increases (nine minutes per flight) and $195 million in harm to passenger well-being. Businesses will cancel trips rather than risk losing confidential information in checked laptops, resulting in implications for future investment and business transactions, asserts IATA.
For airlines, costs would increase due to extra handling of cargo hold baggage, departure delays due to increased baggage screening measures, liability for theft or damage to checked devices and a potential reduction in frequencies based on lower yields from business customers.
De Juniac publicly questioned the effectiveness and reasoning behind the U.S. and UK bans on devices from the Middle Eastern and North African countries soon after their implementation. Speaking on March 28 in Montreal at IATA’s Council on Foreign Relations, de Juniac also criticized the governments' failure to consult and coordinate with airlines before issuing the directives.
De Juniac asked a series of questions he said “underpin” confidence in the industry’s security measures. For example, he questioned why airports listed in the U.S. and UK bans don’t match and how one can consider laptops secure in the cabin of some flights and not others, particularly on flights originating at the same airport.
“And surely there must be a way to screen electronic equipment effectively at airport checkpoints,” he said.
“The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate,” added de Juniac. “Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness. And the commercial distortions they create are severe. We call on governments to work with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their personal electronics.”