US device ban 'won't curb threats'

The directive banning the carrying of large electronic devices such as laptops, tablet computers and games consoles on board airplanes applies to flights serving the US from eight countries.
The directive banning the carrying of large electronic devices such as laptops, tablet computers and games consoles on board airplanes applies to flights serving the US from eight countries.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ATLANTA • The new rule issued by the US requiring travellers flying from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa to store larger electronic devices in checked baggage will have limited success in curbing the terrorist threat, analysts said.

 Mr Mark Martin, an aviation consultant in Dubai, said people will still be able to connect via hubs such as Frankfurt to target American passengers or reach the United States. "When it comes to aviation, there's a very thin line between paranoia and precaution," he was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

The biggest immediate impact may be on check-in times, the report said. While toiletries and other items found to exceed limits on liquids that may be carried through security barriers are usually thrown away, expensive laptops would need to be transferred to the hold or stored at the airport for collection later.

Said Mr Martin: "Nobody will be willing to part from their laptop or tablet on a long haul flight.

"But if you want to go the US, you have to comply with the laws."

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued the emergency directive at 3am New York time on Tuesday to carriers that serve the US from airports in eight countries.

Laptops, tablet computers, games consoles and portable DVD players will have to go in the hold in a move aimed at addressing potential security threats, according to administration officials.

Approved medical devices do not come under the restriction.

Most major airports in the US have a computer tomography scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag's contents, reported the Associated Press. They can warn scanner operators of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags, said the report yesterday.

The new rule comes weeks after President Donald Trump sought to stop most citizens of seven predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries from entering the US, in steps currently being challenged in court.

However, the new restriction has raised concerns over a potential new threat - fire in the hold.

Under the rules, electronic devices - many of which have lithium ion batteries - will now be carried in the belly cargo deck of the airplane, underneath the passenger cabin. Aviation safety experts and regulatory agencies have warned that batteries shipped in bulk could cause a fire and spark a chain reaction to bring down a plane, reported CNN.

Two Boeing 747 crashes - a UPS freighter in 2010 and an Asiana Cargo plane in 2011 - happened after fires broke out in cargo holds.

The fires were later traced to palettes of lithium ion batteries the planes were carrying, said CNN.

The US Federal Aviation Administration bans the storing of spare lithium ion batteries that are not installed from cargo holds. Regulators will work with foreign airlines on how to handle such batteries, an administration official said.

The DHS statement suggested that some items, such as mobile phones, were left off the restricted list for reasons of practicality.

"They can't cover everything, they can't control all vulnerabilities," Mr Richard Bloom, an aviation security and terrorism expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, told Bloomberg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'US device ban 'won't curb threats''. Print Edition | Subscribe