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UK pilot union speaks out on laptop ban risk

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Published: May 15, 2017

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which represents UK flight crew, has warned that banning laptops in the cabin creates “catastrophic fire” potential.

In a statement issued May 14, BALPA said increasing restrictions on laptops and tablets may have a dangerous knock-on effect, compromising safety.

“Given the risk of fire from these devices when they are damaged or they short circuit, an incident in the cabin would be spotted earlier and this would enable the crew to react quickly before any fire becomes uncontainable. If these devices are kept in the hold, the risk is that if a fire occurs the results can be catastrophic. Indeed, there have been two crashes where lithium batteries have been cited in the accident reports,” BALPA flight safety specialist Steve Landells said.

BALPA warned that extending the measures, which have already been imposed on flights from certain countries to the UK and US, would increase the impact from a “handful of flights” to “hundreds of flights a day,” vastly increasing the risk of a fire in the hold. 

“We don’t doubt the security threats that have led to consideration of extending the ban on devices, but we urge authorities to carefully assess the additional fire risk from storing more personal electronic devices in the hold to ensure we’re not solving one problem by creating a worse one,” Landells said.

Modern electronic devices—such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones—are powered by lithium batteries that, when faulty or when short circuited, can cause fires that spread quickly. Therefore, ICAO advises these devices should be kept in the cabin.

The ban has also been criticized for creating commercial distortions.

In March, IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac had said the US and UK measures were “not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate,” adding, “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 … We must find a better way. And governments must act quickly.”

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@penton.com

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