U.S. Opts for 'Enhanced' Security over Expanding Laptop Ban

 - June 28, 2017, 5:05 PM

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced a series of new security measures in place of a proposal to ban electronic devices larger than a cell phone from the cabins of airplanes traveling into the U.S. from Europe. The “enhanced measures” include increased scrutiny of laptop computers at screening points at some 280 airports in 105 countries, affecting some 2,100 flights a day operated by 180 airlines.

The measures also include enhancing overall passenger screening, the establishment of more preclearance locations, increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas and the expansion of canine screening. The DHS said it would work with so-called stakeholders to ensure the full implementation of the measures “over the next several weeks and months.” Airlines and airports that fail to adopt the new requirements within certain time frames run the risk of the DHS imposing further unnamed security restrictions, said the agency.

I am concerned that we are seeing renewed interest on the part of terrorist groups to go after the aviation sector—from bombing aircraft to attacking airports on the ground, as we saw in Brussels and Istanbul,” said DHS secretary John Kelly. “However, we are not standing on the sidelines while fanatics hatch new plots. The U.S. government is focused on deterring, detecting, and disrupting these threats.”

In March the DHS banned laptop computers and other personal electronic devices (PEDs) from the cabins of airliners traveling to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The airports include Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport and Hamad International Airport in Doha, the respective bases of Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, all of which coincidentally have come under fire from U.S. airlines and various lobbying groups for receiving what they consider unfair government support. The others involve Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Cairo International Airport, Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Kuwait International Airport and Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca. 

Days later, the UK joined the U.S. with a similar ban applying to airplanes departing from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt. That ban affects 14 airlines, including six based in the UK.

Both countries drew criticism from the International Air Transport Association for a lack of consultation with industry on the measures and their failure to give a reasonable amount of notice. It later expressed alarm at the possibility of an extension to passengers departing European airports for the U.S.

Safety concerns centered on the fire hazards a concentration of large numbers of lithium-ion batteries in cargo holds can pose. Furthermore, IATA estimated 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 would cancel trips rather than risk losing confidential information in checked laptops, resulting in implications for future investment and business transactions, it asserted.