ATW Editor's Blog

EASA’s safety warning raises most important question on electronic carry-on bans


EASA’s safety warning raises the most important question on these carry-on bans

EASA’s safety bulletin issued today warning of the hazards of loading lots of personal electronics in the cargo hold rather than let passengers carry them onboard as usual is really quite damning of the new US and UK security rules.

EASA’s bulletin does not mention the US and UK electronics carry-on ban directly. But there is no question that it was prompted by the ban and is directed at trying to mitigate what it sees as a clear, if unintended, consequence that one of these lithium battery-powered devices could catch fire during a flight.  

In the immediate term, of course, EASA’s safety bulletin is yet another headache mounted on top of the considerable extra work and cost that those airlines most affected by the US and UK rules are already encountering. The large hub carriers, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, are far more affected by these bans than any other airlines because of the size of their operations, their connecting mega-hub systems, and the fact that the bans apply mostly to Arab airports or countries.

Now, in addition to having to scramble to reassure passengers that their airlines and home airports are safe – despite the bans’ inescapable implication that they are not – they must also assure passengers that all those laptops being loaded into the cargo hold are not going to catch fire. It’s as if the US and UK governments, which could take away these airlines’ operating certificates if they don’t comply, is forcing passengers to choose which way they’d prefer to die on their flight, by bomb or by fire?

But the EASA bulletin does at least have credibility. The dangers of lithium batteries are known and have been seen. Safety is the number one, two and three priority for everyone in the commercial air transport industry, but maintaining that very high standard requires risk mitigation and avoiding unintended consequences.

EASA has raised a very pertinent question; does this electronics carry-on ban mitigate a likely very small  risk, given how many layers of security are already in place, at the expense of raising a potentially more likely safety risk, given what we know about lithium batteries and fire?

Uncomfortable as it may be for those with no choice for now but to check their laptops, this EASA bulletin points to the questioning and debate that is urgently needed on these bans so that a better solution is quickly found that protects both the security and safety of all travelers - passengers and crew.

Karen Walker

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