Nearly everyone is aware of the large electronics ban (aka the laptop ban) that went into place earlier this year for flights from several Middle Eastern countries to the US. At the time, the justification was said to be the imminent threat of bombs in large electronics. In fact, there were discussions to expand the ban to more places because of this threat. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, we’ve instead been gifted an absurdly burdensome new regulation that makes very little sense and is entirely impossible to implement as required. It makes you wonder who the heck is running the show at the Department of Homeland Security.
An announcement of the plan was made on June 28, and it was lacking any useful details. All that was made clear was that, as I understand it, there would be new regulations that would go into effect for all international departures that would arrive in the US.
Details slowly started to leak out, and they are strange indeed. In a memo that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) sent to airlines on the 28th, it outlined some of the procedures which would require compliance. Most notably, within 21 days of the announcement (that’s 13 days from today), “each location will be required to have explosive trace detection (ETD) technology in place at the central search and/or boarding gate applied in a continuous and random manner.” If they don’t, then a large electronics ban will go into place or flights will be suspended. Then within 120 days, “all foreign carriers with U.S. operations will be required to make security program changes in line with U.S. carrier standards. This will include training, passenger questioning, and oversight of aircraft security.”
Some of these changes likely do make sense… in limited quantities. And in fact, airlines do use ETD machines in higher risk locations today. That would explain why, once the rules were rolled out, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and Turkish were able to get off the large electronics ban list almost immediately. I have no doubt those airlines are livid that this wasn’t the requirement in the first place. It could have saved a whole lot of pain to go down this road instead of the knee-jerk ban path that was taken.
Better late than never, right? Were this limited to the Middle East and other higher risk locations, then I probably wouldn’t have been compelled to write a post. But this wasn’t limited, and that’s where this starts to sound nutty.
Since these rules now apply to all international flights coming into the US, that Silver Airways Saab 340 flying from North Eleuthera to Ft Lauderdale must have explosive trace detection in North Eleuthera. That may not apply to you, but maybe you’re flying JetBlue from Aruba, or Southwest from Belize. The threat level on a flight like that compared to something coming out of the Middle East is far lower. Yet compliance in the next two weeks is mandatory… and impossible.
These machines cost thousands upon thousands of dollars to acquire, but it’s not like airlines can walk into Best Buy and just grab one off the shelf. To meet the new requirements, the companies that manufacture them will have to ramp up and it will take time. Further, once the machines are acquired, there is a need for training to be able to use them properly and effectively.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Who is acquiring them in the first place? Is it the airline? The airport? The government? No direction was given, so everyone has to figure that out on their own in a tiny 3 week period. That usually means that in most countries it’ll fall on the airline to lead the charge. Thanks to the liability issue, it’s asinine to think that this can be resolved in that period of time. Let’s say United buys a machine for Aruba. Can JetBlue use it? Well, there has to be some legal understanding that if JetBlue does use it and an airplane blows up, United has no liability. Airlines will be wary to let other carries use their machines without some kind of protection. And of course, how that protection works will vary country by country. It’s no simple issue.
Let’s say there’s a country that has decided it will buy the machines and just handle it for all airlines. There needs to be a location for the machines, and they have to be worked into the existing processes. It doesn’t happen overnight. Yet there are a mere 21 days given to make this happen worldwide. That’s completely impossible.
And remember, this requires us to actually believe that there’s an imminent threat coming out of Aruba. I find it hard to believe or there wouldn’t even be a 21 day grace period. Large electronics would have been banned immediately, at least until compliance could occur.
Regardless, this is happening. And that means there are three options:
- The large electronics ban goes into effect on a slew of international flights from airports that aren’t able to comply.
- Flights from locations that don’t comply must be canceled.
- DHS blinks and admits that what it has required is impossible, giving more time for compliance or, in a perfect world, scaling back to only airports where the threat is real.
The third is mostly likely (at least the part about giving more time) since it sounds like the feds have already said they’ll be open to discussions with airlines. But the fact that DHS would roll out such an ill-conceived and impossible to implement program in the first place really makes me wonder who is making decisions over there. Yes, let’s celebrate the end of the large electronics ban, at least on some airlines where it existed. But this is hardly the right way to replace it on a global scale. Now we just have to wait and see if there will be a significant disruption when many of these airports/airlines fail to comply across the board by the July 19 deadline.