European Air Regulator Raises Safety Concerns Over Electronics Ban

Aviation agency says it would prefer devices restricted by U.S. and Britain to be carried in planes’ cabins

By ROBERT WALL

LONDON—Europe’s aviation safety regulator Wednesday effectively issued a warning about the U.S. and British decision to ban electronic devices such as laptops from a plane’s cabin on some flights.

The U.S. and U.K. last month barred passengers on inbound flightsfrom certain Middle Eastern and North African airports from carrying on devices such as tablets, laptops and other larger electronics. Passengers are being instructed to instead leave the devices behind or place them in their checked bags. Officials in Washington and London said they acted to mitigate global threats against aviation from terrorism.

Safety regulators have long worried about the risk to flights from lithium batteries catching fire while on board. Those batteries are generally used in the devices the two countries have restricted. Safety regulators had been urging devices with lithium batteries to be carried in the cabin to allow airline staff to deal with problems, such as overheating or fire, should they arise.

The U.S. targeted flights from 10 airports. The U.K. restrictions apply to flights from six countries.

The European Aviation Safety Agency issued a special safety information bulletin, a notice to airlines about its concerns, reminding carriers that such devices “should preferably be carried in the passenger cabin, on the person or in the carry-on baggage.”

Airlines placing more electronic gadgets in checked luggage or a plane’s cargo hold should take precautions “to mitigate the associated risks, such as fire in the cargo hold,” the Cologne, Germany-based regulator said.

A spokesman for Britain’s Department for Transport said it would stick to its rules. Spare lithium batteries already can’t be carried on board and, the spokesman said, the government didn’t see a risk from batteries contained within devices even if they are transported in checked bags.

British Airways , one of Europe’s biggest airlines affected by the British ban, referred questions to the government.

The EASA said airlines should ensure the devices barred from the cabin aren’t damaged in flight. Damage to lithium batteries is seen as potential cause of fire. The EASA said the devices placed in checked bags should be contained in proper packaging, rigid bags or other protection to minimize the risk of damage. It also said airlines should ensure the devices are fully switched off before being stored and protected against accidental activation.

Qatar Airways CEO: An Electronics Ban Will Just Send Terrorists Elsewhere

Militants would be able to get around a ban on carrying large electronic items into the cabins of planes bound for the United States by traveling from cities not impacted by the ban, Qatar Airways’ chief executive was quoted as saying on Friday.

The U.S. introduced security measures on March 25 banning electronic gadgets larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins on direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey, including Qatar.

“Instead of going from the airports where there is a ban, they will go to airports where there is no ban,” Akbar Al Baker told the Irish Times in an interview.

“And there are no bans in certain airports that are very risky – I don’t want to name them – but it is far easier to get on to aeroplanes from those places than it is with us.”

Announcement of the restrictions prompted some media speculation it was aimed at protecting U.S. airlines by stifling the growth of the fast-expanding Gulf carriers and Turkish Airlines, a theory dismissed by U.S. officials and many experts.

Gulf airlines Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad Airways have been battling a lobbying campaign in Washington by U.S. carriers that accuse them of receiving unfair subsidies, charges that the Gulf carriers deny and which Al Baker dismissed.

“We got equity, not taxpayers’ money, and we were given enough equity for us to be independent, which we are today, and we have to show profit,” he was quoted saying.

“We are buying American aeroplanes in big numbers and we are providing jobs. Every single flight we do brings economic benefits to the U.S. So to us, America is first.”

The newspaper also quoted Al Baker as saying Qatar did not plan to increase its 20% stake in British Airways-owner IAG (ICAGY, -1.91%).

Electronics ban leads to further screening

(CNN)The Department of Homeland Security is targeting and isolating certain aircraft for additional screening upon landing in the United States as part of the larger electronics ban the agency announced late last month.

The additional security procedure is happening behind the scenes and was not publicly disclosed by DHS when it announced a ban on electronic devices in the cabin of certain flights.

A source with knowledge of the screening procedures tells CNN that TSA is targeting flights arriving from the same Middle Eastern and North African countries covered in the electronics ban, and screening them with bombs sniffing dogs and equipment.

In some cases, it occurs before the plane even pulls up to the gate. The focus of the additional measure is the checked luggage in the cargo hold of the plane.

Before the new security posture was in place, passengers could retrieve their luggage immediately after deplaning. If they were at their final destination, they would leave the airport with luggage in hand. If they were on a connecting flight they would go through customs and their luggage would be re-screened before getting on their connecting flight. With the new procedures in place, all luggage is being screened before the passenger is reunited with their luggage.

“How and where those procedures are conducted varies according to the airport’s capabilities,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told CNN.

First on CNN: New terrorist laptop bombs may evade airport security, intel sources say

The enhanced screening is happening at 14 US airports. The Department of Homeland Security confirms the domestic US airports affected include: Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW), Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Houston Intercontinental (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), New York Kennedy (JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) and Washington Dulles (IAD).

The flights being targeted for additional screening are any flights that originate from the 10 airports located in the 8 Muslim-majority countries impacted by the US electronics ban — Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“These restrictions are not a reflection of confidence — or lack of confidence — in the airlines and airports involved, but a reaction to the threat environment and our assessment of risks,” Lapan said.

Lapan told reporters Tuesday it is too soon to tell if any of the airports currently on the list would be able to get off the list by improving their security posture. Lapan said the policy will be reviewed constantly because it is based on the threat environment.

“So, as we continue to evaluate the threat environment around air travel we may make other decisions to expand or to pull things back.” Lapan said. “But there is nothing we can say to a particular airport, ‘Here are the things you need to do to get off the list.’ We’re not there.”

Electronics ban at foreign airports could expand

The source with knowledge of TSA procedures told CNN that TSA doesn’t want the bags leaving the cargo hold without a second look.

“TSA is not on the ground to screen bags at those (Middle Eastern and North African) airports,” the source pointed out. “If a passenger is getting on a connecting flight in the domestic system or coming into an airport with luggage, TSA wants assurance those bags are safe.”

Lapan told reporters the electronics ban on certain electronic devices on board direct flights to the US from 10 specific African and Middle Eastern airports – could “possibly” expand. The expansion could include more airports or devices. However, he cautioned, no such measures are imminent.

CNN’s Jon Ostrower and Mary Kay Mallonee contributed to this report.

Etihad Airways says bookings to the US are healthy despite the electronics ban

DUBAI (Reuters) – Etihad Airways’ bookings to the United States are healthy despite last month’s introduction of a ban on most electronics from the cabins of passenger flights to the United States, the Abu Dhabi carrier said on Monday.

On March 25, the U.S. banned electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins on direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, including the United Arab Emirates.

“Bookings to U.S. destinations remain healthy and customer feedback to the initiatives taken by Etihad Airways to provide for their business and entertainment needs has been very positive,” an Etihad spokesman said.

Industry experts warned the ban – prompted by reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices in electronic gadgets – could be damaging to fast-growing Gulf carriers by weakening demand among corporate flyers who use their travel time to complete work on laptops and other devices.

Etihad said last week it would lend approved tablets and offer unlimited wifi to business and first-class passengers traveling on U.S.-bound flights.

In March, fellow Gulf carrier Emirates said booking rates on U.S. flights fell 35 per cent after President Donald Trump’s first travel ban which like the electronics ban only applied to Muslim-majority countries.

Electronics ban at foreign airports could expand

Washington (CNN)The ban on electronic devices on board some direct flights to the United States could expand to include more airports and devices, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

The existing ban — which governs certain devices from 10 specific African and Middle Eastern airports in eight countries — requires passengers on those flights to place electronic devices larger than cellphones in their checked luggage.

“Could we see an expansion? Possibly, we have not ruled out that there could be an expansion in the future,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters. He added that any expansion to the ban — which took effect two weeks ago — is not imminent.
The Department of Homeland Security is also targeting and isolating certain aircraft for additional screening upon landing in the United States, according to a source with knowledge of the screening procedures.
US authorities have said the electronics ban is focused on the eight countries in part because of intelligence indicating a greater threat there. Intelligence and law enforcement assessments done in recent months also indicate that, though the broader vulnerabilities exist, the US has more confidence in detection machines and security screeners at airports in the US and Europe. Advanced technology and training helps mitigate the risk.

Lapan said it was too soon to tell if any of the airports currently on the list would be removed and that the policy would be reviewed based on emerging threats. He added, though, that “nothing is foolproof.”

“It is always our goal to prevent somebody from seeking to get an explosive device on an airplane and so we put things into place to try to mitigate that to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “But, short of having people stop flying completely — that’s the only way you can guarantee that no one will ever get blown up in an airplane.”