Sunday, July 2, 2017

U.S. Rescinds Portion of Laptop Ban on Aircraft: Home Security Department eases rules for one airport—in Abu Dhabi—among 10 in Middle East and Africa

The Wall Street Journal
By Robert Wall
July 2, 2017 1:28 p.m. ET

LONDON—The U.S. government has partly rescinded a ban on the use of laptops on some U.S.-bound international flights only days after rolling out demands for enhanced security measures at overseas airports.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways Sunday was cleared to allow its passengers flying to the U.S. to again use laptops, tablets and other electronics in the cabin, the airline and U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

The Abu Dhabi airport was one of 10 in the Middle East and North Africa hit in March by a U.S. ban on using certain electronic gadgets in-flight.

The ban remains in place at the other airports, including Dubai, home of Emirates Airline, the world’s largest by international traffic, and Qatar Airways. Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways are rivals with Etihad for the business of connecting passengers via their Mideast hubs between destinations around the world.

The homeland security department called for the ban amid concerns terrorists were trying to smuggle explosives inside a laptop or tablet past security and set off the device in the cabin once the plane is aloft. The department required passengers to either check their devices or leave them at home.

Washington had considered widening the ban to U.S.-bound flights from Europe and other international departure points. European regulators, airlines and airports lobbied the U.S. government to hold off.

Opponents of the widening were concerned it could dent demand for travel and that storing a large number of electronic devices in the cargo area of planes posed safety concerns. Lithium batteries used in many of the devices pose a fire risk.

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the ban could be widened to airports that fail to adopt more stringent security checks, including enhanced passenger screening. Airports already subject to the restrictions could see those lifted in return for closer checks.

“We commend Etihad for working swiftly to implement these additional measures. Their efforts are a model for both foreign and domestic airlines looking to adopt the new measures,” DHS said.

Officials from the Transportation Security Administration verified the measures put in place in Abu Dhabi and will continue to perform checks.

The Abu Dhabi hub is unusual because it has a so called preclearance facility that allows passengers to clear U.S. customs and immigration before they depart. On landing, passengers are treated like domestic arrivals. Etihad said the security measures associated with the preclearance facility allowed it to quickly satisfy U.S. demands and have the electronics ban lifted.

The electronics ban was one of several headwinds Washington created for Middle East carriers. A ban the Trump administration put in place on immigration from seven Muslim majority countries also dented demand. The ban was later blocked by courts though a more limited version took effect last week.

Etihad said the U.S. is one of its largest markets. It said it flew 203,515 passengers from Abu Dhabi to U.S. destinations in the first four months of the year.

Mr. Kelly said the security requirements will affect 180 airlines operating from 280 airports in 105 countries. It would affect about 325,000 passengers a day on nearly 2,000 flights, DHS officials said.


Anonymous said...

If a laptop contained an explosive device, what would make it any 'safer' stored in the cargo hold of a plane instead of the cabin?

Also, because one idiot tried to board a plane with explosives in his shoe, billions of passengers are now required to remove them. The shoes travel through a scanning device which X-rays, but does not check them for the chemical signatures of explosives.

This is why they 'randomly' select passengers for full body searches. They have nothing to actually detect the presence of explosives in every person.

Anonymous said...

Abu Dhabi should never have been on the banned list. They have very strict security and with a huge number of US border control and customs present there, this should have been treated differently from other airports in the region. The real reason this may have gotten on the list is because there is no US airline flying to Abu Dhabi and the bulk of the market is taken by the middle east airlines such as Emirates, Qatar, Etihad etc. The airport is a mere stop over for onward flights to South Asia and other parts of the world.