ICAO is establishing two safety and security groups in the wake of the US and UK aircraft cabin laptop bans and calling for a “prudent balance” of all commercial air transport safety and security risks.
Delivering a keynote at the IATA AGM in Cancun June 5, ICAO Council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu stressed the security and safety risks must be balanced when considering any restrictions on passengers’ personal electronic devices (PEDs) in aircraft cabins.
“We recognize that the number of business and pleasure travelers wishing to carry their laptops or other devices into aircraft in the years ahead will continue to increase, with those devices becoming more and more important to their productivity and social needs,” Aliu said. “Our guiding priority in the ICAO Council, when we review this matter this fall during our 212th Session, will be to ensure that all related security and safety risks are fully considered and prudently balanced.”
The US in March implemented a ban on PEDs larger than smartphones being included in carry-on baggage on all flights to the US from 10 Middle East and African countries. The UK followed suit on flights to the UK from certain airports. The countries cited a general concern about terrorists continuing to target the airline industry and the possibility of explosives being hidden in PEDs that cannot be detected by the normal airport screening processes for carry-on bags.
The US is now considering broadening its ban to flights from European countries, prompting industry concerns about the effects this could have on travel demand and also the potential fire hazard when large numbers of lithium battery-powered PEDs are placed in aircraft cargo holds. The European Commission and industry associations are in talks with the US to try and find alternative solutions.
ICAO has now established a Multidisciplinary Cargo Safety Group to consider the combined safety, security and facilitation aspects of this issue, Aliu said. And ICAO’s Aviation Security Panel has recommended establishing a new task force to further review the security risks from improvised explosive devices that can be concealed in PEDs. “We are working very rapidly to ensure this work will be completed in time to permit the Council’s comprehensive review later this year,” he said.
The laptop bans have prompted much dialogue during the IATA AGM. IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said in his opening remarks Monday that the US and UK bans “caught everybody by surprise” and were implemented with no industry consultation.
“We must trust that valid intelligence underpinned the UK and US decisions. But the measures themselves test the confidence of the industry and the public—confidence that is critical for the success of any security regime,” de Juniac said.
“The US and UK have not aligned on airports that present a risk. Questions over the safety of placing so many lithium battery devices in the baggage hold have not been answered. And the other Five Eyes nations—Canada, Australia and New Zealand—are mitigating the threat without a ban.”
IATA member airlines adopted a resolution Monday, the AGM opening day, calling for greater collaboration among all government and industry stakeholders to keep flying secure while minimizing disruption to passengers.
“We need better information sharing and better coordination to achieve risk mitigation measures that maximize the protection of passengers and crew while minimizing unnecessary disruption,” de Juniac said.