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EDITORIAL: Europe must stand up to US on laptop ban

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Published: May 15, 2017

Even the possibility, as now widely rumored, of the US extending its ban on laptops in cabins to include all flights from Europe to the US is a disturbing development in an already bad situation.

The original ban, affecting flights from mostly Middle East countries, was enforced with little notice and no dialogue with the airlines and airports that were directly affected or with those industry experts and regulatory authorities that would have provided valuable insight into the operational costs and potential safety risks such a ban would raise.

If there’s any glimmer of hope in what appears to be follow-on efforts by the Trump administration to broaden the ban, it’s that there seems to be strong resistance from the European Commission (EC) and at least some willingness this time by the US to hear the views of those who should have been consulted before the initial ban was imposed.

The mood among European airline CEOs, however, is not optimistic. So let’s be clear of the unintended and costly consequences such a ban would bring.

First, and most gravely, is the fire risk that comes with placing very large numbers of lithium battery-powered electronics into the hold — laptops that are not packaged safely, may not always be turned off, and which are inaccessible if something goes wrong.

Second, without more clarity on the necessity of these new security regulations, US (and UK) intelligence officials lose credibility. That will likely lead to a loss of trust by the traveling public, so they are less, not more, likely to believe that air travel is safe.

Third, this rule creates enormous additional operational procedures and costs for airlines and airports. Dedicated gates must be set up; more bags will need to be checked and extra screenings organized, likely causing flight delays; and airlines become liable for any laptops and other electronic equipment that get damaged or lost.

Fourth, and most important, however, is the significant negative impact an extended ban would likely have on people’s willingness to fly. The Gulf carriers have already been hurt by the ban affecting their US-bound flights and it is entirely wrong for a security rule to create a market distortion. But the effects of broadening the ban to European airports would hugely damage transatlantic sales. There are already concerns about the dampening effect President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration statements and travel ban attempts are having on tourism. Tell people they must hand over their laptops and tablets before flying to the US, and many vacationers will switch destinations. Business travelers, for whom keeping their laptops close to hand is even more important, will find ways to reduce their international flying.

This is a networked, connected industry; any solution must be global and must be technology based.

The EC should force the US to demonstrate more clearly why a ban is necessary and explain why there are no better solutions.

Karen Walker  karen.walker@penton.com   

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