The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) apparently has put on hold an expected expansion of the so-called laptop ban to flights to the United States from Europe, but left open the possibility that it could implement new restrictions at any time.
DHS Secretary John Kelly spoke Tuesday with European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc to discuss aviation security, according to a DHS news release. “While a much-discussed expansion of the ban on large electronic devices in the cabin on flights to the United States was not announced today (Tuesday), the secretary made it clear that an expansion is still on the table,” DHS said.
“Secretary Kelly affirmed he will implement any and all measures necessary to secure commercial aircraft flying to the United States — including prohibiting large electronic devices from the passenger cabin — if the intelligence and threat level warrant it.”
In March, DHS and the Transportation Security Administration implemented restrictions on flights to the United States from 10 Middle East and North African airports that called for all personal electronic devices (PEDs) larger than a cell phone or smart phone to be placed in checked baggage. Shortly afterward, the U.K. government announced its own carry-on ban on laptops on inbound flights from six countries.
The restrictions were criticized by the airline industry and drew responses from a number of other organizations, including Flight Safety Foundation and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), questioned the value of the restrictions and called on governments to urgently find alternatives. “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,” de Juniac said in a speech.
Several days after the U.S. and U.K. restrictions were announced, EASA issued a safety information bulletin saying that personal electronic devices containing lithium batteries “preferably” should be carried in the passenger cabin. “When the carriage of PEDs in the cabin is prohibited, this will lead to a significant increase of the number of PEDs carried in the cargo compartment, in checked baggage,” according to the EASA bulletin. “This should be taken into account as part of the operator’s safety risk assessment process, and appropriate precautions should be applied to mitigate the associated risk, such as fire in the cargo hold.”
In its statement, the Foundation urged the industry to fully consider the risk associated with the transport of PEDs within checked baggage.
Extending the current restrictions to flights from Europe to the United States would greatly increase the number of flights and passengers affected and has been the subject of discussions between U.S. and European officials for the past few weeks.
In its statement Tuesday, DHS said Kelly, Bulc and Avramopoulos agreed on the need to “raise the bar for aviation security globally, including through a range of potential seen and unseen enhancements.” The three also agreed to continue to work together to secure global aviation and to maintain clear lines of communication and cooperation.