Laptop ban lifted on flights from Abu Dhabi to the US

Passengers will now be allowed to have their laptops with them in the plane cabin

The US has lifted a ban on laptops in cabins on flights from Abu Dhabi to the US as it claims that Etihad Airways has put in place tighter security requirements.

According to Reuters, Etihad welcomed the decision and pointed to a facility in Abu Dhabi International Airport where passengers clear US immigration before they land in the US for "superior security advantages" which satisfied US requirements.

The facility was inspected on Saturday night by US officials before it was given the green light on Sunday. Acting CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Abdul Majeed al-Khoori told Reuters that disruption to passengers will be "very minimal" as the processing time for those travelling to the US will be unchanged.

Etihad is the only airline to provide direct flights to the US from Abu Dhabi, after Emirates announced in April that it was cutting flights on five US routes because of reduced demand after both the travel and laptop bans were put in place.

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In March, the US banned any devices "larger than a smartphone" on flights originating from Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The UK followed suit and introduced its own ban which affected six countries in the Middle East. It is thought both decisions were prompted by the discovery of a bomb threat involving a fake iPad packed with explosives.

30/05/2017: US may expand laptop ban

Following the US ban of carry-on laptops from flights originating in the Middle East, it appears the Trump administration is seeking to expand this to all international flights to and from the country.

US head of homeland security John Kelly told Fox News on Sunday that the country faces a "sophisticated threat" from terrorists that are targeting flights bound for the US.

Kelly also insisted that the US would "raise the bar" on airline security, and when quizzed on whether the ban would be extended internationally, said: "We might, and likely will."

"There's a real threat - numerous threats against aviation," Kelly added. "That's really 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 mostly US folks."

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The current rules, which were first introduced in March, ban any devices "larger than a smartphone" on flights originating from Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The UK also introduced its own device ban in the same month, affecting six countries in the Middle East. It is thought both decisions were prompted by the discovery of a bomb threat involving a fake iPad packed with explosives.

Kelly's comments follow reports that the US was considering banning large handheld devices and laptops on inbound flights from Europe, including the UK, according to Guardian sources. It appears the scope could now be much larger.

"We are still following the intelligence," said Kelly, "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."

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Kelly added that Transport Security Administration (TSA) officials would be performing more robust screening methods for carry-on luggage, requiring people to remove more items from their bags for separate scanners.

26/04/2017: The Trump administration is reportedly considering preventing passengers from taking laptops with them into the plane cabin in flights from the UK to the US.

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US officials are looking into introducing a devices ban to flights from Europe, according to the Guardian, after imposing a similar ban on some Middle East countries. This means that electronic devices larger than a smartphone will not be able to be stowed in carry-on luggage, but must be checked into the hold.

A spokesperson for the UK government's Department for Transport told IT Pro: "Aviation security is under constant review but we don't comment on speculation."

The UK government joined the US last month in banning large electronic devices from flights originating in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The ban affects devices measuring more than 16cm by 9.3cm by 1.5cm, such as tablets and laptops, and these will need to be checked into the hold of an aircraft.

Another US ban blocks electronic devices from on flights originating from Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Doha and Istanbul.

The reason for the ban was blamed on an undisclosed bomb plot involving explosives hidden in an iPad, although the specific details of the incident remain undisclosed.

The threat appears to be credible as an explosive device was thought to be hidden in a laptop which blew a hole in the side of a passenger plane in Somalia last year. Nevertheless, such a ban could impact business travellers, and earlier this month the European Aviation Safety Agency warned that storing devices in hold luggage could risk battery fires.

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IT Pro has approached the Foreign Office for comment.

06/04/2017: Storing electronics in hold may compromise aeroplane safety

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The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issed a warning over the risk of battery fires in the cargo hold of passenger planes, following the banning of certain electronics from hand luggage by US and UK authorities.

The regulator, which looks after auroplane safety in 32 European countries, said such devices carried a fire risk because they contained lithium-ion batteries and should really be carried inside a passenger cabin where problems could be quickly identified and rectified. 

The EASA warning came less than two weeks after large electronic devices were banned from certain flights from several Middle Eastern and African countries.

"When the carriage of PEDs (personal electronic devices) in the cabin is prohibited, this will lead to a significant increase in the number of PEDs carried in the cargo compartment, in checked baggage," said the agency in a statement.

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"This should be taken into account as part of the operator's safety risk assessment process, and the appropriate precautions should be applied to mitigate the associated risks, such as fire in the cargo hold."

The regulator recommended that if passengers put devices in checked baggage, they should be completely tunred off. It also said that to effectively protect them from accidental activation alarms, pre-set configurations should be disabled that might activate the device.

It also said that devices placed in checked baggage have to be protected from damage by applying suitable packaging or casing or by being placed in a rigid bag protected by adequate cushioning (e.g. clothing).

It added that if devices are put in the cargo hold, they should be dispersed, while "avoiding consolidation in a single container or location and, when practicable, away from any other dangerous goods".

"Passengers and crews safety (sic) is our highest priority. Spontaneous ignition or thermal runaway of Lithium batteries present safety risks which need to be taken into account. We must take all precautions to make sure that mitigating one risk does not lead to another risk" said Patrick Ky, EASA's executive director.

A group representing European pilots, the ECA, said it was "seriously concerned" about the ban and added it could create additional risks.

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"The new ban on PEDs in the passenger cabin therefore has the potential to create safety risks that could prove to be more harmful than allowing passengers to carry them as hand baggage. With current [aeroplane] cargo hold fire suppression systems, it might prove to be impossible to extinguish a lithium battery fire in the cargo hold, especially when the batteries are stored together. Therefore, any event of this nature during flight would more than likely be catastrophic," the group said in a statement.

28/03/2017: 'iPad bomb threat' prompted the UK and US to issue flight ban

The UK and US bans on electronic devices on passenger flights originating from areas in the Middle East and North Africa has been blamed on a previously undisclosed bomb plot involving explosives hidden in an iPad.

The ban came into force partially due to the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane using a fake iPad filled with explosives, according to the Guardian, who only described the source of the news as a "security source". The specific details of the incident, including the country involved, when it happened, and the group responsible, remain hidden.

The UK government's ban applies to inbound flights from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey. So far six UK airlines and eight foreign carriers are affected, including British Airways, Easy Jet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson.

A similar ban was also enforced in the US, targeting eight airports in 10 countries. The Guardian's source said that the bans were the result of a combination of factors, and not a single incident.

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The threat is certainly credible, given an incident last year when an explosive device, suspected to have been hidden in a laptop, was used to blow a hole in the side of a passenger plane in Somalia.

Other European countries, including France and the Netherlands, are reportedly also considering bans on electronic devices.

22/03/2017: UK government issues flight ban on electronic devices from six countries

The UK government has issued an electronics ban on all devices measuring more than the average smartphone on flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

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It affects any item measuring more than 16cm by 9.3cm by 1.5cm, which includes tablets, phablets and laptops. Items larger than a smartphone will now have to be checked into the hold of an aircraft.

It will affect flights operated by British Airways, easyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson, while overseas airlines impacted are Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global Airlines, Middle East Airlines, EgyptAir, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air and Saudia.

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"The UK has some of the most robust aviation security measures in the world and at all times the safety and security of the public is our primary concern," Chris Grayling, secretary of state for transport, said in a statement. "We will not hesitate to put in place measures we believe are necessary, effective and proportionate."

The US has already issued a similar ban on electronics, although the government over the pond has banned them on flights originating in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Doha and Istanbul.

"We understand the frustration that these measures may cause and we are working with the aviation industry to minimise any impact," Grayling added. "Our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals."

Although the government hasn't revealed whether the new legislation has been issued following specific security threats from those countries, prime minister Theresa May following "a number of meetings on aviation security", Sky News said.

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