Biometric green light proposed to ease chaos of in-flight laptop ban

Reports that the laptop ban on select flights to the US may soon be extended has raised further concerns in the aviation industry.

But Joe Leader, CEO of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), has proposed an alternative: green lighting passengers to travel with their electronics in the cabin.

Leader proposed this solution to the existing ban and to a potentially extended ban while speaking at the Aviation Festival Americas, alongside major airlines, the US Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) and US Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP).

The “green listing” proposal would mean passengers can be pre-approved to carry electronics in the cabin on restricted routes, with their identities confirmed using biometric facial recognition.

Leader also called for a hold on any expansion of the electronics ban to flights originating in Europe.

“Having the electronics ban spread to the European Union for flights to the United States would damage the personal freedoms integral to international air travel. We must stand together with government solutions for personal electronics that enable both security and accessibility for our airline passengers worldwide.

“Biometric identification of passengers that are pre-cleared to travel with electronics would enable a viable potential solution with the U.S. DHS CBP ready to provide immediate technological facilitation.”

The repercussions of the existing ban have already been felt.

Carriers whose US bound flights are restricted for carriage of electronics equipment in the cabin have removed more than one million annual passenger long-haul seats from US destination airports over the last 30 days alone, the association states.

This does not include any potential lost passengers on flights to the UK which has also joined the US in the electronics ban, albeit with varying parameters.

Leader says governments should approve “solutions for electronics rather than the existing airline electronics ban”.

“Fighting potential threats means finding government solutions that do not take the laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, and large phones out of the hands of the millions of law-abiding passengers that use them every day.

“We owe our air travelers worldwide the best options to make their flights enjoyable and productive.”

Results from APEX’s Global Passenger Survey released last year, show airline passengers frequently bring their personal electronics devices on-board aircraft:

  • 43% of worldwide airline passengers bring a tablet device on-board with 70% of these passengers using their tablet device in-flight
  • 38% of worldwide airline passengers bring a laptop computer on-board with 42% of these passengers using their laptop in-flight
  • 22% of worldwide airline passengers bring e-Readers on-board with 77% of these passengers using their e-Reader in-flight.

IATA awaits confirmation

One of the criticism of the original electronics ban imposed on flights to the US was that its method of deployment was poorly coordinated, leaving airlines little time to plan how they might help passengers deal with these sudden limitations on their on-board activities, as well as the implication to business travel policies for many.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, has addressed this point directly in recent speaches, including at a recent meeting in Seoul where he called for increased dialogue between regulators and industry, in the drafting of new regulations, policies and standards.

“We have a common interest in safe and secure flights. Yet last month the US and the UK announced that large electronic devices would be banned from passenger cabins on some flights from the Middle East and North Africa.

“There was no consultation with airlines and the measure challenged public confidence with inconsistencies, while the safety concerns over concentrations of lithium batteries in the aircraft hold have not been adequately considered or addressed.

“The learnings from this are many—governments need to share information, they need to consult with industry, and they need to support the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as it develops a global aviation security plan.”

Should any extension take place it would find the airline industry ill-prepared to address the needs of numerous passengers once again, creating disruptions for airlines and airports in their screening and boarding processes.

An extension of the ban to routes from Europe to the US would also threaten the stability of the transatlantic premium market, one of the most important routes for airlines in terms of profitability and competitiveness.

In a highly contended market, with heavy competition accross the pond from Gulf carriers and Low-Cost carriers alike, it is difficult to imagine how airlines might cope with a loss of seats far greater than what APEX cites for the past 30 days.

Lithium battery risks

What can not be understated in this electronics ban discussion is the threat to flight safety of collecting numerous electronic devices, in various states of repair or disrepair, within the hold of the aircraft.

Regardless what precautions airlines will take to reduce the safety risks from such procedures imposed on them by this policy, Lithium battery fires have already proven deadly.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has expressed concern over the flight safety risks of the electronics ban.

An investigation into the loss of EgyptAir 804, previously attributed to suspected terrorist activities, has suggested that it may have been caused by the runaway lithium battery fire of a single tablet device in the cockpit.

If a single device, within reach of being extinguished, could cause an aircraft to explode, it’s easy to understand why the airline industry is concerned over the greater risks of battery fires which cannot be detected until it is too late.

NB: Electronics ban devices image via Pixabay.

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