New aviation security measures have been introduced by the US and UK governments in response to what is being described as “evaluated intelligence”.
The initial US led security restrictions were communicated by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday 21 March, closely followed by the UK government who announced similar enhanced security measures later the same day.
Whilst the terms of the new security arrangements are similar, in that they both restrict electronic devices of a certain size from being carried in the cabin of commercial airlines flying into the US/UK from certain countries, the airlines and countries impacted do differ somewhat.
US Change to international travel carry-on items
The US Department of Homeland Security has introduced what it calls “aviation security enhancements for select last point of departure airports with commercial flights to the United States.” These enhancements apply to ten specific airports in eight countries affecting a number of airlines:
Egypt, Cairo International Airport – EgyptAir
Jordan, Queen Alia International, Amman – Royal Jordanian
Kuwait, Kuwait International Airport – Kuwait Airways
Morocco, Mohammed V International, Casablanca – Royal Air Maroc
Qatar, Hamad International, Doha – Qatar Airways
Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Intl, Jeddah; King Khalid Intl, Riyadh – Saudi Arabian Airlines
Turkey, Ataturk Airport, Istanbul – Turkish Airlines
UAE, Dubai International and Abu Dhabi International – Emirates and Etihad
No US airlines will be affected as they do not operate any direct flights. There is no impact on domestic flights in the United States or flights departing the United States. Electronic devices will continue to be allowed on all flights originating in the United States.
Travellers flying direct to the United States from one of these airports will be prohibited from carrying electronic devices larger than a cell phone/smart phone on-board the aircraft in carry-on luggage. Electronic devices that exceed a predetermined size limit must be secured in checked luggage otherwise boarding will be denied. This will also apply to trips where the traveller begins a journey in an unaffected country, but their itinerary transits an impacted country as a journey leg. Whilst the US government has not given definitive size limits for prohibited ‘large’ electronic devices, they have advised that the approximate size of a commonly available smartphone (iPhone 7 Plus/Samsung Galaxy S7) is considered to be a guideline for passengers. Ultimately, airlines will be able to further advise passengers who are unsure. Examples of large electronic devices that will not be allowed in the cabin on affected flights include, but are not limited to laptops, tablets, eReaders, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic game units larger than a smartphone, travel printers/scanners etc.
Necessary medical devices will be allowed to remain in a passenger’s possession after they are screened.
Airlines were first notified of the enhanced security restrictions on large electronic devices on March 21st at 0300 EDT (0700 GMT), giving them a deadline of 96 hours to implement the restrictions and comply with the directive. In reality, airlines have already begun introducing the measures, however the deadline remains 0300 EDT (0700 GMT) Saturday 25 March 2017.
Additional airline security measures on some routes travelling to the UK
On Tuesday 21 March, the UK government released a written statement to parliament announcing changes to aviation security measures for selected inbound flights to the United Kingdom. The announcement followed a similar directive issued by the Department of Homeland Security surrounding restrictions in carrying large electronic devices on-board commercial aircraft as hand-luggage, flying inbound from one of a number of destinations.
The UK restrictions will apply to all flights coming in to the United Kingdom from one of six countries; Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia. Unlike the US directive, which doesn’t affect any national carriers, the UK restrictions will impact the following airlines:
· British Airways
· Thomas Cook
· Turkish Airlines
· Pegasus Airways
· Atlas-Global Airlines
· Middle East Airlines
· Royal Jordanian
· Tunis Air
Travellers flying into the UK from one of the six impacted countries, using one of these airlines, will be prohibited from taking electronic devices into the airplane cabin unless they are less than a predetermined size. The UK government have gone one step further than their US counterparts and actually detailed size limits for the airlines to adhere to. Phones, laptops and tablets larger than 16.0cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm will not be allowed in the cabin on any inbound UK flights which originate from one of the six predefined countries.
This means that the vast majority of popular smart phones, including iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7 models, will be allowed on-board carried in hand luggage, however tablets such as iPad’s (including iPad Mini), notebooks, laptops and e-readers will be prohibited and travellers will be forced to check them in as cargo hold baggage.
Camera’s which fall outside of the dimensions will also be banned from inside the cabin of the aircraft.
The new UK measures are effective immediately, however airlines have been given until 0700 GMT before enforcement commences.
Why has the ban been introduced?
Whilst no other foreign governments have imposed any similar bans, the Canadian Transport Minister has stated his government is also considering possible restrictions on electronics carried on-board aircraft as hand-luggage. The UK government has further indicated they are in close communication with other European governments regarding the measures taken.
Both the UK and US governments have been vague surrounding the need to implement these new security measures. Whilst the UK stated that the measures are necessary, effective and proportionate as part of keeping aviation security under constant review, the US announced that “evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.” Despite this, neither governments has indicated that an imminent, specific or credible threat has been identified, instead suggesting that implementing additional security measures will enhance the capability of the security services to mitigate any further potential risk to the aviation industry.
It has been widely reported that US led intelligence operations in January and February revealed a potential increased threat to the US civil aviation sector from Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), understood to have been in response to an escalation in US military operations in Yemen. In addition, recent incidents such as the downing of EgyptAir flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo, and the recent attempt to bring down a Somali airliner with a bomb concealed in a laptop by AQ affiliate, al-Shabaab, is certain to have played a factor in the decision to implement increased aviation security measures.
The UK government made clear during Prime Ministers questions on Wednesday that the decision taken to implement these measures comes amid substantiated intelligence received indicating an intent to target the UK aviation industry from international terrorist organisations. The introduction of increased security restrictions is said to have been aimed at reducing the capability of these groups, in the same way previous additional security measures have been introduced at airports and on-board aircraft.
It is certain these new measures will cause inconvenience for many travellers and it remains to be seen to what extent flights will be disrupted, if at all. In particular, those travellers who would usually fly without hold luggage, instead carrying their electronic devices as hand-luggage on-board flights will now be unable to do so, if they are flying from one of the affected countries. In addition, the question has been raised regarding the insurance aspect of carrying expensive electronic devices in hold luggage as many travel insurance policies are limited in their coverage under such circumstances. Passengers should also be aware that goods bought under so called ‘duty-free’ conditions from airport shops will also be subject to the restrictions.
As has been the case with the recent attempts to introduce a US travel ban on citizens from certain nations, there is likely to be some initial confusion. Scenario’s whereby passengers are transiting international routes and flying out of one of the affected countries as part of the final leg of a journey which originated elsewhere, are certain to catch out many unsuspecting travellers, as electronic devices will have to be stored from the initial departure airport. The US government has said it expects only a small percentage of flights to the United States will be affected, with the exact number of flights varying on a daily basis. Only flights from 10 of the more than 250 airports that serve as last points of departure to the United States will be affected.
At this time, there has been no timeframe set for these enhanced security measures. The US DHS and TSA have said they will continue to evaluate their aviation security processes and policies based on the most recent intelligence. Similarly, the UK government stated that the measures would remain in place as long as they are necessary for the safety of passengers.
Head of Risk Intelligence