Banning Electronic Devices

By Sandra Desouza
| 2nd May 2017

Recent developments in aviation security have seen the British Government join the US with the introduction of banning electronic devices except for standard sized mobile phones from certain Middle Eastern and North African places. Travellers will still be allowed to bring tablets, laptops, handheld games consoles, cameras, e-readers such as Kindles and portable DVD players with them but they will have to check them in the luggage hold if they are arriving directly from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia to the UK.

So, what is the logic behind the electronics ban? The ban is supposedly in place to make it harder for would-be terrorists to smuggle explosives hidden in consumer electronics. However, the launch of this ban has raised many questions. Surely couldn’t this apply to a large smartphone? What’s the logic behind banning an iPad Mini but not an iPhone 7 Plus? Why only ban these in the cabin and not the hold?.

Apparently allowing cell phones but prohibiting larger devices does make sense, because smaller devices are less likely to conceal enough explosives or other contraband to cause serious damage to a plane. An explosion surrounded by suitcases, not passengers, contained within the belly of a plane can be robustly reinforced. The threat of a mid-air explosion supersedes hazardous concerns that the lithium-ion batteries powering those laptops and DVD players will catch fire in the hold.

The new regulation may prove effective in addressing a specific threat, but it also raises other concerns, why do the US and UK list of places not match? This is where it becomes difficult to look at these bans without a cynical approach. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are not on the UK list, but are on the US one. Does this mean that these airports are safe enough for the British and not for the Americans? Or simply explained because of airline routings.

With the fear that an electronic device could be used to somehow hack an aircraft system or presents a threat an explosive could be masked as an electronic device. Why not impose this ban across all flights and not just the ones from these specific places? The ban explicitly refers only to direct flights to the UK from certain countries, surely leaving a potential loophole for people who fly via other European hubs. What technology do other countries have that would detect and prevent the threat when it goes through their screening process that the 13-countries banned do not? Surely better screening facilities at all airports able to detect explosives hidden in electronic devices in advance of boarding would be an improved solution but may mean additional screening delays with cost implications.

So far, what is clear is how passengers are trying to understand these bans. It is suggested that other European nations are likely to follow the UK’s example in time. So, in the interest of aviation security our advice before leaving for the airport would be to charge your phone, grab a book or magazine and use the time on board to switch off and recharge your own batteries.

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