US might ban laptops in aircraft cabins on all international flights

The United States might ban laptops from aircraft cabins on all flights into and out of the country as part of a ramped-up effort to protect against potential security threats, US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Sunday.

In an interview on Sunday, Kelly said the United States planned to "raise the bar" on airline security, including tightening screening of carry-on items.

"That's the thing that they are obsessed with, the terrorists, the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it's a US carrier, particularly if it's full of US people."

In March, the government imposed restrictions on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins on flights from 10 airports, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

Kelly said the move would be part of a broader airline security effort to combat what he called "a real sophisticated threat." He said no decision had been made as to the timing of any ban.

"We are still following the intelligence," he said, "and are in the process of defining this, but we're going to raise the bar generally speaking for aviation much higher than it is now."

Airlines are concerned that a broad ban on laptops may erode customer demand. But none wants an incident aboard one of its airplanes.

"Whatever comes out, we'll have to comply with," Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines, told the company's annual meeting last week.

Airlines were blindsided in January when President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry for 90 days to citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, sending airlines scrambling to determine who could board and who could not. The order was later blocked in the courts.

In the case of laptops, the administration is keeping the industry in the loop. Delta Air Lines said in a statement it "continues to be in close contact with the US Department of Homeland Security," while Munoz applauded the administration for giving the company a "heads up."

"We've had constant updates on the subject," he said. "We know more than most. And again, if there's a credible threat out there, we need to make sure we take the appropriate measures."

However, closer home internet on flights could soon be a reality. The central government is likely to permit it by August-end had reported last week.

With the move getting a green light, customers will be able to use WhatsApp, access email, and log on to Facebook on flights. The civil aviation ministry has, for a long time, been trying to push "very very" hard to introduce wi-fi facilities on board flights. To permit on board wi-fi services, amendments would be required to the provisions of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Indian Telegraph Rules.

"We're awaiting clearance from the Department of Telecommunications," Lalit Gupta, joint DG, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, told .  "International airlines are in talks with the aviation ministry. Currently, they have to switch off Wi-Fi in the Indian airspace (where inflight internet is banned on security grounds)." Gupta also said that Indian carriers like Jet Airways and SpiceJet are slated to take deliveries of the Wi-Fi-fitted Boeing 737 MAX by mid-2018.

About 70 airlines across the world offer inflight internet letting passengers email, livestream, use social media, download movies and even make calls. These include carriers that fly into India like Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad. 

In March, had reported that Etihad will offer iPads and free Wi-Fi services to first class and business class passengers on its US-bound flights from Abu Dhabi. 

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel