Protectionism Behind Ban on Electronics for Middle Eastern Flights?

A group of the world’s largest airlines criticized a ban on electronics imposed by the United States and the U.K. last week. The ban targets passengers headed for either of the two countries on flights operated by a handful of carriers, when originating from several destinations in the Middle East and Africa. Travelers affected by the new restrictions cannot bring devices larger than a cellular phone as a piece of carry-on. Instead laptops and tablets must be checked in as luggage. Critics have charged that the new policy is primarily intended to reduce competition from carriers such as Egyptair and Royal Jordanian.

New electronics ban affects several Middle Eastern flights.

Somali Attack is First Case of Laptop Terrorism

America’s Department of Homeland Security pointed to intelligence of an attempt to sneak a fake iPad onto a plane laden with explosives. There is also reason to believe that a flight in Somalia in 2016 suffered from a suicide bomb attack centered on a laptop. There was a fatality in the attack, believed to be the suicide bomber. The pilot was able to land the plane, but had the explosion taken place at a higher altitude, there is a strong chance that the plane would have disintegrated.

Al-Quaida Suspected in Heightened Risk Assessment

The switch to electronics devices follows a series of failed attempts to sneak bombs onto planes by hiding them inside clothing. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the primary group deemed responsible for trying to carry out attacks on the U.S. and U.K.  In 2009, AQAP’s demolition specialist sent an attacker to take down a plane headed for Detroit with a load of plastic explosives hidden in his underwear.

Middle Eastern Hubs See Increased Security Measures

The ban is being enforced on foreign carrier flights from the following cities: Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait City, and Riyadh. The new rules introduced suddenly, much like America’s recent immigration ban on seven Muslim majority countries, and once again left passengers at a loss as to how to manage its implications, given the numerous devices that are now a common part of a traveler’s toolkit. Aside from laptops and tablets, other items on the exclusion list include certain cameras, gaming devices, DVD players, and e-readers. The stated goal is to prevent terrorists from using electronics as a housing for detonation devices.

Airlines Ask for Government Cooperation

Critics, including representatives from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade organization charged with protecting the airline industry, argue that the ban will be ineffective, especially since it was not designed with the input of the carriers themselves. Security analysts are also unclear why several airports were included on the U.S. list, but were left off of the U.K. one. IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac stated, “We know how to protect passengers and goods against threats. What we want is to collaborate with public authorities, with governments, to find the appropriate measure.”

Foreign Airlines Challenge Need for Increased Security

Tim Clark, the President of Emirates Airlines complained that the procedure caused confusion without providing an added benefit. Clark also addressed the quality of the screening procedures put in place in the airline’s base in Dubai. Clark expressed incredulity at additional security measures being applied to the company’s flights. Per Clark, British security agents “have audited our procedures and security training on an ongoing basis.” HE added that “The Department of “Homeland Security and TSA also regard our procedures as excellent and we have coordinated and worked with them since we began flying to the U.S. in 2004.”

How Will the Electronics Ban Affect Trading?

Experts investigating the travel bans put in place by the Trump administration have claimed it caused a significant reduction in foreign visits, even from areas that were not included in the ban. This is because uncertainty over border entries makes travelers uncomfortable, and many simply choose another destination. Overall, this leads to less dollars being spent in the United States, causing the dollar to fall. A similar effect can be expected with the electronics restrictions, especially in terms of business travel, where access to a laptop may be necessary. So, this time both the dollar and the pound could be depressed. The Saudi Tadawul index could also see a big hit, as ticket sales are reduced for several of its companies.