A UPS jet severely damaged by an uncontrolled fire despite its onboard control systems

It’s been confirmed that US authorities are in talks with numerous airlines and their respective aviation agencies about a far reaching expansion of current bans on passengers on selected Middle East carriers carrying their own laptops, tablets or other electronic devices in the cabins of flights to American cities.

The potential implications for deterring or inconveniencing Australians flying into US cities are obvious, although at this hour, no official announcements of such additional restrictions have been made.

This report by Bloomberg is typical of those appearing in foreign media overnight.

While the report is focused on US-Europe flights, there are indications such bans will become global, given the ease with which terrorist plots based on the use of very small personal electronic devices could be mounted via connections from Asia or Latin America.

The problem for safety regulators like Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority is that such a ban is totally contrary to the stance that it and similar national aviation regulators, including the FAA in the US (pre-Trump) had taken in banning such lithium-ion battery powered devices from being placed in checked and under floor baggage.

The fundamental issue, explained in recent years and in great detail by carriers like Qantas and Singapore Airlines, is that the proven risks of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in personal and industrial devices catching fire are best dealt with by trained cabin crew rather than cargo-hold fire suppression systems.

Uncontrolled lithium ion battery fires have been implicated in serious incidents and fatal crashes involving freighters.

The risks of the Trump administration bans are discussed factually in this Consumer Reports article.

When the initial and very selective US bans were announced earlier this year the UK followed suit in a highly conditional manner, in effect leaving all of the main ME carriers, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, exempt from the restrictions into UK cities, where of course, immediate connections to American airports could be made on dozens of unbanned airlines.

At a political level, the challenge for safety authorities like CASA and the FAA, is whether or not safety first policies should be overridden by ignorance and cussedness. Do ‘we’ diminish the safety of our air travellers to satisfy the whims of stupid people?

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