A few months ago, in response to an unquantified terrorist threat, the US and the UK instituted a ban on personal electronic devices in the cabin, larger than a standard sized smartphone.
Indeed for British Airways (but only British Airways) flights to and from Istanbul, this ban is still in effect.
At the time, it was pointed out that having a large number of lithium batteries in the holds of aircraft, where they’re not easily accessible was a really bad idea.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fiasco where they started to spontaneously combust was a perfect illustration of the risks. Imagine an electronic device bursting into flames, mid-way through a trans-pacific flight where you’re two hours or more from the nearest airport, when it’s located in the hold of an aircraft, and thus virtually inaccessible.
However the US and UK authorities still persisted with the ban, and for several months made everyone traveling from certain middle eastern hub airports, check-in to the hold their laptops, tablets and larger smartphones.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reports that the US authorities have done an about face. It appears that the US FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) has sent a paper to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) explaining why it is a bad idea after all.
I wrote about this issue a few months ago, when the possibility of more intrusive security questioning for US-bound flights was being raised, and the initial electronics ban first lifted.
I’m glad to see that the authorities have started to look into the issues that the initial ban raised, and have sent a paper to ICAO for further discussion. I think it’s reasonably self-evident that large numbers of lithium batteries in the hold is a bad idea, but it’s undoubtedly important that an evidence-based approach to the risks is worked through.