As “Laptop Ban” Talks Continue, Airline Groups Speak Out

While a ban on carry-on electronic devices on U.S.-bound flights from Europe is "off the table" for now, an array of industry groups—which have raised concerns about economic and safety risks by such a ban—are keeping an eye on the issue.

A much-watched plan by the U.S. government to bar laptops from being brought onto airplane cabins headed from Europe to the U.S. is on hold for now.

And among the reasons that’s the case has to do with the feedback that industry groups gave the controversial plan, which would extend an existing ban on large electronic devices in many Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Officials from the U.S. and the European Union met Wednesday to discuss a potential expansion of the ban, with immediate action delayed, but more talks on security measures promised. An official told the Associated Press that the ban was “off the table” for the time being.

Groups Speak Out

The meeting came hours after the International Air Transport Association sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Chief John Kelly and EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, making the case for alternatives to requiring passengers to check their laptops and many other electronic devices as part of their luggage.

This scenario, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac argued, created two problems: One, it would cost passengers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost time and productivity, and two, the solution creates a safety problem, by putting potentially explosive lithium-ion batteries inside of the cargo hold, where they would pose a risk to the flight.

“These alternative measures would also avoid the concentration of lithium battery-powered devices in the cargo hold of passenger aircraft, which is deemed to create an additional safety threat,” de Juniac wrote, according to Reuters.

Other groups also spoke out against the laptop ban, including Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), which noted that between 60 and 90 percent of European travelers carry a large personal electronic device with them onto a flight. This would create additional staffing needs on the part of individual airports, as well as force them to reorganize their entire infrastructures to put U.S.-bound flights in the same portion of the airport.

ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec also pointed at the economic impact the existing laptop ban has had on Middle Eastern airlines.

“Beyond the immediate operational impact, we are concerned about the consequences that such a ban would have on demand for trans-Atlantic air travel—and ultimately connectivity between Europe and the U.S.,” Jankovec said, according to Travel Weekly.

British Airline Pilots Association safety expert Steve Landells, meanwhile, spoke to the fire threat of stowed battery devices.

“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,” Landells told the BBC.

Is More Coming?

While the ban appears to be off the table for now, there’s a chance that it could still expand—and not just to Europe. On Thursday, the Financial Times reported [subscription] that the U.S. was considering a worldwide extension of the ban on international flights entering the country.

“We are considering extending the restriction that is in place in the Middle East and North Africa now, and the expansion of those restrictions could include Europe and other locations,” Homeland Security Spokesman David Lapan told the newspaper. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with our European colleagues, but it is still something that Secretary Kelly is considering.”

In other words, the laptop ban isn’t dead just yet.

(Reuters file photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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