UN aviation agency urges balance of security risk, safety in electronics ban

There would also be curbs requiring electronic items to be transported as checked baggage on flights from 6 countries in the Middle East.

Hundreds of passengers at Heathrow International Airport in London waiting in long queues to board their flights. Picture: Facebook.

MONTREAL – The United Nation’s aviation agency on Wednesday urged regulators to weigh security and safety, after the United States and Britain imposed restrictions on several carry-on electronic devices on planes coming from certain airports in Muslim majority countries.

A news statement published by the International Civil Aviation Organisation stressed a balance between security “risk” and safety concerns, because “incidents involving devices containing lithium batteries may be more easily mitigated in the cabin than in checked baggage.”

On Tuesday, the US Department of Homeland Security said passengers travelling from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa could no longer bring devices larger than a mobile phone such as a laptop into the main cabin, following reports that militant groups want to smuggle explosive devices inside electronic gadgets.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May later said there would also be curbs requiring electronic items to be transported as checked baggage on flights from six countries in the Middle East.

The carry-on ban, while addressing security concerns, has some authorities worried about technical safety risks, such as lithium-powered goods catching fire in the hold.

“Finding an effective balance between safety and security approaches is always a priority in global aviation,” the ICAO statement said.

While Montreal-based ICAO cannot impose rules, it sets safety and security standards for international aviation that are usually followed by the organisation’s 191 member countries.

In 2016, ICAO announced a prohibition on shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger planes. Industry experts are now working to develop new and improved packaging standards that could be used to safely transport these batteries on planes.

While lithium-powered consumer items like laptops are permitted in checked baggage, some ICAO staff have shared safety concerns with countries that are implementing or considering the electronics carry-on ban, said a source close to the aviation agency.

ICAO has not decided whether to propose turning the carry-on electronics ban into a global standard, a second source said.

Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to talk to the media.

“ICAO and its member states will continue to review the evolving aviation security environment in the coming weeks,” the statement said.