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The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a transnational body representing 265 airlines worldwide, has called for governments to urgently find alternatives to allow passengers to continue to take large electronic items such as laptops and tablets aboard aircraft in their carry-on baggage.
The announcement comes a week after the US and UK governments announced almost simultaneous bans on the carriage of such items in the cabin on flights departing certain Middle Eastern and North African countries – in the case of the UK’s ban these are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey.
The bans are thought to have been imposed as a result of an unspecified threat, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, which said that terrorist attempts to mount an attack against the aviation sector were intensifying.
However, the bans also courted controversy because they target majority Muslim countries, and seem to ignore the possibility of criminal actors booking connecting flights through an unaffected state.
In a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said the measures that the US and UK have taken were “not an acceptable long term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate”.
De Juniac said even in the short term it was hard to understand the bans’ effectiveness, and that they risked created severe commercial distortions. He called on governments to work closely with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure while allowing passengers to continue using their devices.
De Juniac said: “With the measures now in place, our passengers and member airlines are asking valid questions. Why don’t the US and the UK have a common list of airports? How can laptops be secure in the cabin on some flights and not others, including flights departing from the same airport? And surely there must be a way to screen electronic equipment effectively?
“The current situation is not acceptable and will not maintain the all-important confidence of the industry or of travelers. We must find a better way. And governments must act quickly.”
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The IATA also expressed its frustration that the US and UK governments had put in place the security measures without acting in consultation, or coordinating, with affected airlines.
A number of those affected have subsequently introduced work-around measures, such as Emirates, which is rolling out a handling service that at least allows business travelers to continue to use laptops and tablets right up to the gate, instead of having to part with their devices before going through security.
De Juniac lamented that while governments did indeed have primary responsibility for keeping borders secure, the priority of keeping passengers, crew and aircraft safe were shared, and this could not be accomplished without effective and reasonable intelligence sharing between government agencies and the IATA’s members.
“Airlines don’t want access to state secrets. But if airlines understand the outcome governments want, they can help with the operational experience to deliver that result effectively and efficiently,” he said.