Europe’s airports have issued a warning of mass disruptions resulting from an extension of the electronics ban, ahead of a security meeting between representatives of the EU and the US.
The warning comes amidst past speculation and media coverage of the electronics ban and following revelations of intelligence shared by US President Donald Trump with representatives of the Russian government during a recent visit to the White House.
“ACI EUROPE very much regrets this speculation & media coverage – not least, because it reveals a lack of meaningful security cooperation between the EU and the US. This is not conducive to effective security and potentially compromises trust in the aviation security system,” the association writes in an official statement.
Some coordination has been underway to gather facts surrounding the reason for the ban and balance those against the risks to aviation safety posed by the mass storage of lithium-ion battery-powered electronics in the aircraft hold.
On 9 May, EU Commissioners Violeta Bulc and Dimitris Avramopoulos sent a letter to US officials, calling for a common approach to the security threat. After subsequent bilateral contacts, a meeting between the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the European Commission is scheduled for tomorrow in Brussels.
ACI EUROPE warns of “highly disruptive and far-reaching consequences” from a ban on the carriage of large Personal Electronic Devices aboard US-bound flights from European airports, would have.
In all, 59 airports in the European Common Aviation Area currently have direct services to the USA, with a total of 3.684 operating flights per week.
The five airports with the largest number of US weekly flights, handling the largest number of passengers, are London-Heathrow (761 flights), Paris-Charles de Gaulle (353 flights), Frankfurt (291 flights), Amsterdam-Schiphol (242 flights) and Dublin (179 flights).
Together, these 5 airports account for nearly 50% of the weekly flights to the US. Based on a sample of European airports, the number of passengers carrying PEDs is estimated to be between 60% and 90%.
The volumes of flights and passengers affected involved, extending the current US ban to European airports would result in significant disruptions, ACI-EUROPE states, affecting various aspects of airport and airline operations.
These would include ad hoc screening checks at the gate of each flight, as well as the implementation of related processes to load passengers’ large electronic devices in the aircraft hold. This would require the deployment of a very large number of additional security staff. Appropriate staff are not readily available and would need to be trained. Also, as for anyone working in the restricted area of a European airport, new staff would need to first obtain security clearance from the competent national authorities – a process that usually takes several weeks.
“This would require the deployment of a very large number of additional security staff,” ACI EUROPE states. “Appropriate staff are not readily available and would need to be trained. Also, as for anyone working in the restricted area of a European airport, new staff would need to first obtain security clearance from the competent national authorities—a process that usually takes several weeks.
“Affected airports would also need to reconsider their gate allocation system—with the objective of re-grouping US-bound flights within ‘common gate areas’, where possible. In addition to the extended boarding processing times involved by the extra screening, this would generate inefficiencies in infrastructure capacity utilisation, with potentially spill-over effects on other flights.”
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE said of the electronics ban:
“All in all, if the ban was to go ahead, it would hit the continent’s busiest airports hardest, where a significant portion of US-bound flights would need to be cancelled at short notice. For the flights that could still operate, there would be delays, which would compromise onward connections in the US.
“Beyond the immediate operational impact, we are concerned about the consequences that such a ban would have on demand for transatlantic air travel – and ultimately connectivity between Europe and the US. The fact that one of the affected Gulf airlines has downsized its operations the US is indeed worrying—and points to a wider & lasting economic impact.”
TIME TO RESET EU & US COOPERATION ON SECURITY
The issue of shared intelligence is not overlooked. ACI EUROPE calls on the US and the EU to share all information in their possession, for a joint review of the threat which led to the initial US ban, and a careful consideration of any additional security measures needed for US-bound flights departing from European airports.
ACI EUROPE asks that any security measures considered to address this threat should be purely risk-based. “Which means that they need to be credible, proportionate and effective to address whatever threat they are supposed to address,” ACI EUROPE says.
Jankovec adds: “Tomorrow’s meeting should be the opportunity for the EU and the US to reset their cooperation on aviation security. More than ever, given the geopolitical environment, we are in, we need the EU and the US to work hand-in-hand on this. This is what the travelling public—and citizens—rightly expect from their Governments, as it is the only way to stand a chance of defeating terrorism.”
ACI EUROPE represents over 500 airports in 45 European countries. These airports contribute to the employment of 12.3 million people, generating €675 billion each year (4.1%) of GDP in Europe.