UK minister stresses need to ensure air travel is safe

Britain's Aviation Minister Martin Callanan says efforts are ongoing to harness technology and look for solutions for more effective checks and screening methods, so that traveller inconvenience is minimised.
Britain's Aviation Minister Martin Callanan says efforts are ongoing to harness technology and look for solutions for more effective checks and screening methods, so that traveller inconvenience is minimised.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Even as a ban on travellers carrying laptops, tablets and other large electronic devices on flights is being progressively lifted, Britain will not hesitate to reintroduce the restrictions if necessary.

"This is an escalating arms race with people who will do us damage," warned Britain's Aviation Minister Martin Callanan, in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times.

He was speaking to ST during his recent visit to Singapore as part of his first official overseas trip since being appointed minister in Britain'sTransport Department in June.

While he understands the frustration of travellers - being a frequent traveller himself - he said: "We don't do this for the good of our health... We don't wake up one morning and say 'How should we make life difficult for the travelling public?' We do this because, unfortunately, we are all aware of the terrorist threat."

In March, Britain and the United States introduced the bans, after intelligence revealed that terrorists had successfully developed compact battery bombs that fit inside laptops or other devices. Believed to be strong enough to bring an aircraft down, the bombs need to be manually triggered.

The US ban, which affected travellers flying to the country from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries, has since been lifted.

The British restrictions, which affected flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia, are being progressively lifted.

Mr Callanan did not say when the ban will be completely lifted, adding that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, based on checks and assessments by the authorities. "The risk is different at different airports and with different airlines."

Shortly after the bans were imposed, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) which represents global carriers, called for an urgent rethink. At the time, its director-general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said that the measures were not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat the US and Britain were trying to mitigate.

Whether it is a ban on liquids, gels and aerosols in hand luggage; environmental measures to restrict carbon emissions from flights; or a laptop ban, Iata has always called for standards and rules to be imposed on a global basis, through the United Nations' commercial aviation arm.

This would reduce confusion for the billions of air travellers a year, Iata has said repeatedly.

Mr Callanan said that while consistency was ideal, it was very difficult to achieve, given the different security standards and different threats countries are facing. "I'm sure the standards in Singapore are a lot higher than they are in some other countries in this region," he added. The reason that Britain and US are always at the forefront of new security measures "is because we are the ones that are targeted the most".

Still, efforts are ongoing to harness technology and look for solutions for more effective checks and screening methods, so that traveller inconvenience is minimised, Mr Callanan said.

In the meantime, he urged for understanding as the authorities do what they must, to continue to keep flying safe. "These judgments are always incredibly difficult" but ultimately, the objective is clear.

"The safety of the travelling public is our No. 1 priority and will remain so," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'UK minister stresses need to ensure air travel is safe'. Print Edition | Subscribe