Is the US really going to ban laptops on flights from Europe?

11 May 2017

Image: Undrey/Shutterstock

The US government is acting on intelligence suggesting that terrorists may convert electronic devices into bombs mid-air.

The US is expected to announce a ban on the use of laptops and other electronics aboard flights from certain European countries.

Reports suggest that this could be confirmed today (11 May 2017), however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that no final decision has been made and the matter is “under consideration”.

The move comes on the heels of a decision made by the DHS in March to ban the use of laptops, iPads, Kindles and cameras aboard flights from Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Affected airlines included Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

Instead, owners of the devices must check their devices in with their baggage. At the time, airlines were given 96 hours to comply with the requirements.

The UK followed suit by restricting the use of electronics larger than phones on flights direct to the UK from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Storing laptops in baggage presents a safety problem

The US and UK bans were introduced due to intelligence that suggested terrorist groups targeting aviation were looking at ways to take down aircraft using bombs smuggled in consumer electronic devices.

While the ban is highly anticipated, Reuters reports that US officials are reviewing how to ensure that lithium batteries stored in luggage holds do not catch fire or explode in mid-air.

European regulators warned that placing hundreds of devices in the hold on long-haul flights could compromise safety if poorly deactivated lithium-ion batteries catch fire.

In a statement, the DHS said: “No final decisions have been made on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins; however, it is under consideration.

“DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travellers safe.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years