IATA Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac issued a clear warning to the Trump administration: Banning personal electronic devices (PEDs) from aircraft cabins and accommodating them in the holds of planes instead, as planned by Washington, could lead to new security risks, not manageable during flight. This way, hazards are only shifted from the passenger decks to the bellies of aircraft, eventually even worsening security, warns de Juniac.
No fire extinguishing possible
“If a device is set on fire in the holds of a plane, nobody can access the compartment to extinguish the flames while the aircraft is airborne,” holds de Juniac.
This has occurred several times in the past, for example in June of 2014, when lithium batteries ignited and started a fire inside the cargo hold of a Boeing 737-800 at Melbourne airport, moments before passengers boarded the Fiji-bound flight. Before, a similar occurrence caused by self-combusted lithium-ion cells downed a UPS operated Boeing 747F in Dubai, killing all crew members.
Alarmed by alike battery burns, Washington’s FAA performed a series of disquieting tests followed by a safety alert, warning airlines that transporting these batteries in the cargo compartments carries the “risk of a catastrophic hull loss.”
Clear words. However, obviously not heard by the Trump administration or else they would have considered alternatives to shifting notebooks and laptops from the passenger cabins to the lower decks of aircraft.
Pure chaos expected
Experts fear that the electronics ban would create pure chaos on the world’s busiest air travel sector. Affected would be 390 flights per day from Europe to the U.S., carrying 31 million travelers per year from East to West across the Atlantic. If put in place, such a ban would dwarf in size the current one implemented in March, affecting about 50 flights per day from 10 Arabian and Turkish cities. Mr de Juniac also pointed out that a high number of business passengers who stored confidential data will stop flying to the U.S. since they are strictly forbidden to hand over their devices to outsiders.
Whether these and other logical arguments will convince Washington to dump their plans remains to be seen. Currently, high-ranking EU and U.S. officials are in talks to find a solution acceptable by both parties.
IATA proposes alternative security measures
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, IATA proposes the adoption of various short-term measures as an alternative to the looming ban. In his write, de Juniac propagates to increasingly utilize Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) at primary and secondary checkpoints. This proven and widely available tool can be used on a continuous and random basis on passengers and bags at the boarding gates, without affecting services and facilitation levels negatively, de Juniac holds.
Recognized trusted traveler programs and the identification of high risk/low risk individuals would be another step leading in the right direction. Further, the IATA helmsman propagates trace analysis by Plasma Emission Detectors (PED) together with visual inspection of devices to inspect possible signs of tempering. Finally, de Juniac advocates increasing the training of screeners to detect PED-based threats.
If all this helps, remains to be seen. In case the proposals are turned down by the DHS, which seems to be the more likely outcome of the negotiations, a number of pressing issues need to be solved practically overnight.
Laptop ban is likely to create more problems than solving them
One of them is the open insurance question in case notebooks get damaged during ground handling or loading. Another is how to avoid longer waiting times for travelers at control gates caused by laptop handover procedures to the ground staff. Presumably a time consuming act, causing delays of flights. “At destinations, passengers want to get their own notebook back and not that of any other traveler,” de Juniac illustrates possible chaos which might be produced if the issue is not managed professionally. Above all, special fire resistant containers are needed for stowing the devices securely during flights, to prevent aircraft being set on fire in case cells should ignite in the cargo holds while a craft is airborne.
Finally, there is the cost issue. “Who pays for all these additional security measures, is it the airlines, their governments, the airports or the passengers themselves?” he asked.
One thing is perfectly clear: Mr Kelly’s Department of Homeland Security won’t contribute a single cent.