Terrorism, laptop ban weigh on airlines

CANCUN (Mexico) • The weekend's deadly attack in London and debate over travel restrictions, including laptop bans, have put safety concerns high on the agenda as global airline executives gather in Mexico for the industry's largest meeting of the year.

Mr Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said the violence in London could discourage potential visitors as similar attacks did in Europe last year.

"In previous events, in Brussels or in Paris, the traffic from certain regions of the world (had been reduced)," Mr de Juniac said on Sunday. "So it's possible that there is an impact, but it's a bit early to know how big this impact will be."

Airlines were quick to offer assurances and refunds to travellers on edge after the London attack. Malaysia Airlines offered refunds to customers flying into London until yesterday, chief executive Peter Bellew said. "Very few people have taken up the offer and we haven't seen any drop-off in bookings to London. But it's not good," he said.

Last year, carriers in Europe reported a drop in demand from travellers from Asia after attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice, but air traffic has recovered this year.

Mr Bellew said carriers in Asia could rethink growth plans for new routes to Europe or the United States. "I think it will have an impact," he said, adding that it built on Asian airlines' aversion to political risk in Europe and the US.

"For colleagues in Asia, there's no risk sending a new plane or new flight to China, or a new route from Australia. You will see a certain insularity in this vast region."

The airline industry executives are also seeking alternatives to the US and British bans on in-cabin laptops and tablets on certain flights, which they say is hurting business.

Alternative proposals include checks by explosive-sensitive sniffer dogs, extended bomb-detection technology, increased training - anything but the ban, which Iata says is threatening the industry just as it was enjoying a boom.

Mr de Juniac called the laptop ban "inappropriate". "Hot topics will include finding alternative means to keep flying securely without the inconvenience," he said. "We have no doubt about the threat. We have doubt about the measure that has been proposed to ban (electronic devices) from the cabin."

Iata says passengers appear to be avoiding routes where the ban is in place. If it were extended to flights between the US and Europe, the lost revenue would total around US$1.4 billion (S$1.93 billion), it says.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Terrorism, laptop ban weigh on airlines'. Print Edition | Subscribe