Kuwaiti social media activist Thamer al-Dakheel Bourashed puts his laptop inside his suitcase at Kuwait International Airport in Kuwait City before boarding a flight to the United States on March 23.
In a bulletin that seems to directly question the wisdom of the new US and UK bans on large electronic devices in carry-on luggage, Europe’s aviation safety authority today warns that such devices are “dangerous goods” in the cargo hold.
The European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) April 5 bulletin does not mention directly new US and UK security rules introduced in March, banning passengers from carrying onboard electronic items larger than smartphones because of fears they may contain explosives. But the EASA directive is clearly meant to raise awareness of what it sees as a heightened fire risk the rules bring to airliners.
“PEDs containing lithium batteries are considered as dangerous goods. When carried by passengers, they should preferably be carried in the passenger cabin. This would enable the crew to react quickly in case an incident involving such PED occurs,” EASA says in a statement explaining the release of safety information bulletin (SIB) 2017-04.
The US and UK government security rules compel passengers on certain flights to do the opposite—to pack their lithium battery-powered laptops, tablets and other large electronics in their checked bags.
EASA notes that when PEDs are not allowed in the cabin, “it leads to a significant increase of the number of PEDs in the cargo compartment. Certain precautions should therefore be observed to mitigate the risk of accidental fire in the cargo hold. In particular, PEDs placed in checked baggage must be completely switched off and well protected from accidental activation.”
EASA executive director Patrick Ky adds, “Spontaneous ignition or thermal runaway of lithium batteries present safety risks which need to be taken into account. We must take all precautions to make sure that mitigating one risk does not lead to another risk.”
The bulletin raises yet more contradictions and confusion over the US and UK rules, which are targeted at direct flights to the US and UK from mostly Arab countries.
The US measures apply to 10 airports, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha Hamad and Istanbul Ataturk. The UK measures apply to six countries that include Turkey, but not the UAE or Qatar. This means that Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways direct flights to the US affected, but Emirates, Etihad and Qatar flights to the UK are not.
Neither the US nor the UK has explained why electronic devices that might contain explosives are safer in the cargo hold than in the cabin.
Adding to the confusion, Australia stepped up its security measures this week, but its list of affected flights contains only direct routes to Australia from the UAE and Qatar. The Australian rules also still permit PEDs in the cabin, but passengers and their carry-on baggage are subject to potential extra screening at the boarding gate.
Because of the different target lists, the UK and Australian measures affect British and Australian airlines on specific routes as well as Arab, Turkish and North African carriers. The US measures do not directly affect any US carriers.
The EASA SIB advises airlines that PEDs placed in checked baggage must be protected from damage by applying suitable packaging or casing or by being placed in a rigid bag protected by adequate cushioning, such as clothing.
The agency also recommends that PEDs “should be dispersed in the cargo hold, avoiding consolidation in a single container or location and, when practicable, away from any other dangerous goods.”
Asked for comment on the EASA bulletin, Arab Air Carriers Organization secretary general Abdul Wahab Teffaha told ATW, “Our calls, and the calls of many more parties, for governments to move in urgency about this ban, should be embraced and acted upon.
“Our main objective remains to provide the travelers with safe and secure transport. I can't think of any better time for ICAO to step up to its responsibilities and gather concerned governments and other stake holders in order to devise global measures to mitigate the perceived threat without exposing air transport to safety hazards.”
Karen Walker Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org