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Could Bomb Bags Be a Solution to Terrorist Threat?

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FlyBag2 by D'Appolonia being installed in the luggage hold of an airliner. 

Airlines and Aviation

As electronics devices larger than smart phones are banned from carry-on bags, questions remain. Could bomb bags in luggage holds offer a solution to the threat that bombs could be detonated by passengers via remove control?

The United States and Britain have banned electronics devices larger than smart phones in passenger carry-on luggage on flights from Turkey and selected countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Included would be laptops, tablets, cameras, travel printers, and games larger than a hand-held phone.

Canada and France are considering taking similar measures. Australia, Germany, and New Zealand say that they are not considering instituting such a ban at this time.

Widespread Concern

The move has attracted widespread concern.  As always happens in situations like this, it can be difficult to balance the need for safety and the need for convenience. And what about the cost? 

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) 393 flights per week will be affected by the electronics ban.

Included are 2% of the total international scheduled passenger flights to the United States and 2.7% of similar flights to the United Kingdom

According to load factor calculations by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), this would mean that about three million airline passengers would be affected per year.

Airline passengers throughout the world, moreover, have become accustomed to bringing their personal electronics devices on-board aircraft to be used in-flight.

How will the ban be implemented and how will passengers react to the ban?

The following statistics indicate just how much is at stake:

  • 43% of worldwide airline passengers bring a tablet device on-board with 70% of these passengers using their tablet device in-flight;
  • 38% of worldwide airline passengers bring a laptop computer on-board with 42% of these passengers using their laptop in-flight; and
  • 22% of worldwide airline passengers bring e-Readers on-board with 77% of these passengers using their e-Reader in-flight.

“When we take away personal electronic devices from passengers, we are bowing to a potential threat rather than providing an acceptable security solution,” APEX CEO Joe Leader said.

“Chemical detection machines utilized worldwide can detect illicit items in electronics. Turning on electronics checks functionality and non-functioning electronics could be banned from flights.

"The expense of hand-searching every carry-on for the personal electronics ban could instead be directed to a long-term solution that serves airline passengers and safety.”

Affected Airports

Airports in the following eight countries are affected by the U.S. ban:

  • Egypt;
  • Jordan;
  • Morocco;
  • Qatar;
  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Turkey; and
  • United Arab Emirates.

Airports in the following six countries are affected by the British ban:

  • Egypt;
  • Jordan;
  • Lebanon;
  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Tunisia; and
  • Turkey.

Affected Airlines

The following airlines are affected by the U.S. ban:

  • EgyptAir;
  • Emirates Airline;
  • Etihad Airways;
  • Kuwait Airways;
  • Qatar Airways;
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines;
  • Saudi Arabia Airlines; and
  • Turkish Airlines.

The following six British and eight foreign airlines are affected by the British ban:

  • Atlas-Global;
  • British Airways;
  • EasyJet;
  • Egyptair;
  • Jet 2;
  • Middle East Airlines;
  • Monarch Airlines;
  • Pegasus Airways;
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines;
  • Saudi Arabia Airlines;
  • Thomson Airways;
  • Thomas Cook;
  • Tunisair; and
  • Turkish Airlines.

While the U.S. and U.K. governments consulted each other on the bans, it is interesting to note that their lists of banned countries and banned airlines does not totally match.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) were on the U.S. list of banned countries, but missing from the British list while Lebanon and Tunisia were on the British list but missing from the U.S. list.

Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates Airline were included on the U.S. list of banned airlines but missing from the British list.

So why were some British airlines included but no American airlines? The reason is simple: several British airlines fly to the affected countries, but no U.S. airline fly to any of the countries concerned.

Implementation

At least two of the affected airlines – Emirates Airline and Turkish Airlines – will let passengers check their electronics gadgets at the gate rather than putting them in their checked luggage.

This should assuage some of the fears that airline passengers have that their electronics devices might be damaged or stolen in transit.

According to Ben Schlappig, a travel blogger at One Mile at a Time, checking devices at the gate would be the safer option.

Checked bags are more likely to be unsupervised for a longer period of time whereas special electronics shipments would probably be watched more carefully, Ben says.

Baggage handlers would know that a higher percentage of U.S. and U.K. bound bags would contain electronics devices and would therefore be more likely to target them, he adds.

United Arab Emirates

In classic hub and spokes fashion, Etihad Airways has a hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport, and Emirates Airline has a hub at Dubai International Airport. Both of these airports are  in the U.A.E.

Because of their strategic location, both airports serve as transfer points for passengers flying between Africa, Asia, Australiasia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America.

It is interesting to note that the airport at Dubai is considered to be one of the world’s safest airports.

While the U.A.E. government expressed surprise at the ban, it said it was willing to cooperate with the United States on its implementation.

"The U.A.E. is the number one ranked country worldwide by the regarding the UAE's compliance with international security and safety standards," said Sultan bin Saeed al-Mansouri, Minister of Economy and chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority in a statement.

Airports with Pre-clearance Operations

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stations CBP law enforcement personal at selected airports outside the United States to inspect passengers before boarding U.S.-bound flights.

The same inspections performed upon arrival in the U.S. are carried out before departure from non-U.S. airports.

As a result, when passengers disembark upon  arrival at American airports, they do not need to go through U.S. customs a second time.

Included are eight airports in Canada, three airports in the Caribbean, two airports in Ireland, and Abu Dhabi International Airport in the U.A.E.

While CPB does not station staff at Victoria International Airport in Victoria, British Columbia, it does maintain operations at the city’s passenger/ferry terminal.

Two airports in Saudi ArabiaJeddah and Riyadh are said to be next in line, but an opening date has not yet been set.

It is a curious choice given the small number of U.S.- bound flights operating from those airports.

Conspiracy Theories

The American airline industry has been at odds with Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines for years over what it thinks are unfair practices.

According to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, the Gulf carriers and Turkish Airlines receive government subsidies, which give them a significant competitive advantage over their American counterparts.

Do these subsidies really allow these airlines to offer better service at lower prices, as U.S. airlines maintain?

They might. But was aiding and abetting U.S. carriers really behind the U.S. move to ban electronics devices from the cabins of these four airlines?

Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, doesn’t think so.

 "This is not being driven by an effort to gain competitive economic advantage. I would be very surprised if that was what drove the policy," Ian told The National, a state-linked newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

"I think that overwhelmingly, this is an administration and a president that is focused on radical Islamic terror. And they want to show that they are taking action.”

Reaction

While U.S. and British officials maintain that the ban will help prevent terrorist attacks on commercial airplanes, questions remain.

A threat was cited, but no details were given for obvious reasons. Why the items larger than a cell phone were cited but not hand-held phones is open to speculation.

 “If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold,” said Nicholas Weaver, researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If you’re worried about hacking, a cellphone is a computer.”

And there is another issue. What about terrorists with connecting flights at the affected airports whose journeys began at airports not affected by the ban?

Airline Safety

According to APEX, every threat to airline safety so far has been met with a viable solution – even if a viable solution for the current threat has yet to be found.

“We now globally screen every checked bag, carefully scan all carry-ons, restrict liquids, conduct body-scans, and regularly conduct chemical analysis checks on items,” says APEX’s Joe Leader, who believes a passenger-centric solution is needed.

“When passengers connect internationally, they are frequently scanned again. Placing items into the cargo hold does not fully address the issue with a passenger-centric solution.”

Bomb Bag to the Rescue

A device called “Flybag2” could be the answer. Developed by U.S. based D'Appolonia to resist terrorist bombs smuggled into airliners, Flybag2 is constructed of four layers of material, which includes Kevlar, the same material used in bullet proof jackets.

The bags are not only lightweight, they are also highly flexible and able “to handle the energetic effects of a blast without breaking”, says David Shukman, science editor at BBC News.

So how does the product work?

The D'Appolonia Fly-Bag2 is fitted into the aircraft hold. Luggage is then loaded into the lightweight flexible bag within the hold.

In the event of an explosion, the new generation fabric contains the blast by absorbing the shock waves, together with any fragments. It is also resistant to fire.

"The Fly-Bag2 represents a major step in counter terrorism and gives passengers the assurance that they can travel with increased levels of safety,” said Roberto Carpaneto, CEO, D'Appolonia.

“We move into production initially with Fly-Bag2 variants, designed specifically for the Airbus A320, but we will be responding to industry demand with new sizes for other aircraft types in the near future."

Fly-Bag2 is covered by an international patent and is compliant with airworthiness regulations set by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

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