In March, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an electronics ban, commonly referred to as the “laptop ban.” This ban, which applied to any electronic device larger than a cell phone, prohibited these devices in passenger cabins of planes traveling to the U.S. from 10 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
DHS Secretary John Kelly claimed the ban was initially enacted to keep the traveling public safe. “I made that call based on evaluated intelligence and real concerns we had about terrorist plotting. Make no mistake: our enemies are constantly working to find new methods for disguising explosives, recruiting insiders, and hijacking aircraft,” said Kelly.
At that time, the ban permitted these devices to be stored in checked luggage, which generally undergoes more intense screening for explosives. Even so, with talks of the ban expanding to some European countries, many officials and airlines pushed back.
They argued against this significant inconvenience to passengers, in favor of alternative (less disruptive) means instead. Many also argued that storing laptops that use lithium batteries in the cargo hold would increase the risk of fires that could not be contained.
In an announcement on Wednesday, Kelly revealed a plan for enhanced security measures that would replace the “laptop ban.”
“Today, I am announcing a first step toward this goal by requiring new security measures to be applied to all commercial flights coming into the United States. These measures will be both seen and unseen, and they will be phased in over time,” stated Kelly. “They will include enhanced screening of electronic devices, more thorough passenger vetting, and new measures designed to mitigate the potential threat of insider attacks.”
Kelly went on to further outline additional measures for heightened security including a path for airlines to adopt more sophisticated screening approaches. This could reportedly include advanced checkpoint screening technology and an increased use of explosive detection canines.
Furthermore, DHS will encourage an increase in the number of airports with the capacity for Customs and Border Protection Preclearance operations. As opposed to post-flight programs like Global Entry, Preclearance involves the screening of passengers by CBP personnel at the departure airport before boarding a U.S.-bound flight.
“We cannot play international whack-a-mole with each new threat. Instead, we must put in place new measures across the board to keep the traveling public safe and make it harder for terrorists to succeed,” said Kelly.
DHS fully expects all airlines to work together to ensure the safety of all individuals while traveling, including passengers and crew members.
In their statement, DHS also stressed compliance with these new measures. Reportedly, DHS will have the ability to impose other restrictions—including the previous ban on large electronic devices or even suspensions of flights to the U.S.—for those who are slow to comply or prove uncooperative.
While these enhanced security measures will apply to U.S.-bound flights only, Kelly voiced he is hopeful other nations will follow suit to improve global aviation security:
“Again, today is just the starting point. We are taking prudent steps to make aircraft more secure, to reduce insider threats, and to identify suspicious passengers. In the meantime, we will launch a concerted effort with our foreign partners to put in place wider counterterrorism improvements. This will include better information sharing, expanded exchanges of terrorist watchlists, and more advanced security checks of travelers around the world.”
The International Air Transport Association welcomed this decision in a statement released later on Wednesday. The statement reported that IATA looks forward to working with DHS and member airlines to implement these new measures, taking care to state this would include ensuring airline costs and operational impacts are minimized.
“Keeping our passengers and crew safe and secure is our top priority,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “This creates a natural partnership with governments, which have the primary responsibility for security. Today’s actions raise the bar on security.”