The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published an urgent call to action urging governments to address restrictions on the carriage of larger electronic devices onboard.
This electronics ban, first introduced by the United States, and adopted by the UK under different parameters, has disrupted airline and airprot operations, and confused consumers. Business travel groups have pointed out that the ban could negatively impact global business travel, as companies may have stringent rules governing employees’ handling of their corporate laptops.
While air travel demand has been high, airline profitability relies heavily on the sale of premium tickets, which are most often bought by executives travelling on business.
IATA urged governments to quickly find alternatives to the electronics ban and presented a case for alternative measures which could resolve security concerns without inconveniencing these valuable airline customers.
“The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate. 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.
He also highlighted the need to maintain public confidence in the security of the global aviation industry, which safely and security operates an average 100,000 flights a day.
“With the measures now in place, our passengers and member airlines are asking valid questions. Why don’t the US and the UK have a common list of airports? How can laptops be secure in the cabin on some flights and not others, including flights departing from the same airport? And surely there must be a way to screen electronic equipment effectively? The current situation is not acceptable and will not maintain the all-important confidence of the industry or of travelers. We must find a better way. And Governments must act quickly,” said de Juniac.
IATA also called for better coordination between governments and informaiton sharing on the nature of the threats. While some governments have received intelligence from the US which explains the Government’s motivation for these measures, whatever threats are contained in those reports were insufficient to persuade European governments, Australia and New Zealand that such measures were necessary. Canada has said it is considering whether such measures are necessary.
IATA also expressed frustration at the process used by governments to put in place the security measures which was “woefully lacking.”
“The industry came together quickly to implement the new requirements. That was a challenge because there was no prior consultation and little coordination by governments,” said de Juniac.
Even ICAO, the UN body responsible for uniform global regulation of air travel, and dedicated to ensuring the safety, security and well-beign of passengers around the world was given little notice of this ban and began a process of evaluating risks and measures in the days following the announcement of the ban.
IATA says that it has long called for better information sharing and coordination on security measures among governments and with the industry, and adds that cooperation between governments and the aviation industry can yield better results than governments taking unilateral measures.
“While governments have the primary responsibility for security, we share the priority of keeping passengers, crew and aircraft secure. To do that effectively intelligence is king. And it needs to be shared amongst governments and with the industry. It’s the only way to stop terrorists before they get near an airport, let alone aircraft,” de Juniac. “Airlines don’t want access to state secrets. But if airlines understand the outcome governments want, they can help with the operational experience to deliver that result effectively and efficiently.”
IATA urges adherence to standard practices of international cooperation to address threats to the industry.
Challenges to aviation security were highlighted in Resolution 2309 of the UN Security Council which tasked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop a Global Aviation Security Plan (GASeP).
“The need for such a plan has been made very clear by wide gaps in the measures taken by governments in recent days. States need to lend their full support to ICAO in developing GASeP quickly. And even before that can be achieved, there is an early opportunity to make a real improvement to international cooperation on security. In May ICAO member states will consider amendments to Annex 17 of the Chicago convention that would require information sharing. The security experience of recent years should compel States to support this,” said de Juniac.
Airlines and airports affected by the electronics ban have made the best they can of the situation, offering their customers alternative solutions which comply with the ban and even using the situation as a brand-building opportunity to highlight their in-flight entertainment offerings.
But the fact remains that the ban has a disproportionate negative impact on airlines operating in markets cited by the ban, which could do long-term damage to profitability and stability for those routes.
Many have also pointed out that the US ban, as drafted, affects the Big 3 Middle Eastern airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, which have been in a prolonged ‘Open Skies’ dispute with the Big 3 U.S. carriers, American Airlines, Delta, and United.
The US airlines claim that these Middle Eastern carriers benefit from government funding which gives them an unfair competitive advantage.
These U.S. carriers are not affected by the electronics ban because they do not operate the same routes.
As a result, passengers wishing to travel from these markets to the U.S., who do not want to be affected by the ban, will need to take more circuitious routes to get to the U.S. through Europe or Asia in markets where the ban is not in place.
The availability of these alternative routes also raises questions on the effectiveness of the ban, since any passengers who pose a threat to aviation have ways to circumvent these restrictions.
Some of airports affected by the ban, especially the hubs of the Big 3 Middle Eastern carriers, have advanced state-of-the art security measures in place, including for the screening of passengers and their luggage. This raises more questions about the effectiveness of asking these passengers to undergo stringent restrictions outbound to the U.S. but not on the return.
The electronics ban also calls into question the effectiveness of the U.S.’ own security screening processes.
Abu Dhabi Airport, which is affected by the U.S. electronics ban, though not by the UK’s, has received U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Pre-Clearance approval after a period of extensive auditing.
The Pre-Clearance program allows a very limited amount of hubs around the world to process visitors to the U.S. while they are still overseas, as if they were already on the U.S. mainland. It is considered to be as stringent and reliable as the mainland controls of the US CBP which issues these approvals.