The CEO of Qatar Airways is pushing back against the US electronics ban saying it’s unnecessary, pointing out that in Doha they do explosive trace detection on 40% of passengers, and that bad actors will just depart from other airports without security that’s as tight.
The U.S. says they implemented the ban from certain airports because the government has more confidence in security at European airports (even though we know there have been actual terrorist attacks on airports in Paris and Brussels). However the ban doesn’t apply to China, to South America, to Lagos Nigeria (where Boko Haram is based but where Delta flies), or to Baku, Azerbaijan. A determined terrorist can’t bring a laptop onboard Dubai – New York JFK. But they can fly Dubai – Milan – JFK, Dubai – Athens – JFK, or Dubai – Baku – New York JFK.
Qatar’s CEO, who previously suggested the electronics ban wasn’t a trade war by other means, is clearly frustrated: he points out that as a big buyer of Boeing aircraft, and bringing jobs to the U.S. with every flight, “to us, America is first.”
The thing is, and this isn’t a new point it’s been made since day one, checking lithium ion batteries as cargo is dangerous. The European Aviation Safety Agency has expressed concerned over the electronics ban for this reason.
We can’t make the world risk free (although there are fewer people trying to take down planes than we often think). All we can do is transfer risk.
What I didn’t realize is that even the US can’t agree with itself on the best policy forward. In fact the FAA issued a safety bulletin in response to the US electronics ban.
As the Flight Safety Foundation explains, electronics can catch fire and when they do inside the cabin it’s manageable. When they do in the cargo hold, we’re toast.
There have been occasions when the lithium batteries in PEDs have suffered thermal runaway and caught fire. To mitigate this risk, cabin crew has been trained in how to manage these situations. With the transport of PEDs on certain flights now restricted to the cargo hold, along with other potentially flammable items within checked-in baggage, a known and managed risk has effectively been transferred to another part of the aircraft where, should thermal runaway occur, it is rendered inaccessible to cabin crew
Canada, Australia, and New Zealand share signals intelligence with the US and UK but haven’t felt the need to impose similar restrictions. Neither have France and Belgium.