This is a major change to our aviation security regulations and carries serious potential for delay and confusion for UK passengers.
First, will the Secretary of State explain why the UK and US bans were announced within hours of one another yet provide for different countries, different airlines and, in effect, different devices? The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Morocco, for example, are all affected by the US ban but are not included in the UK ban. No US operator is affected, but six British airlines are. Size restrictions on electronic items differ between the two.
The Washington Post reports that US officials have been discussing new restrictions for more than a fortnight. When exactly did Ministers first learn of those potential changes? Does the Secretary of State agree that, to avoid passenger confusion and delay, efforts should be made to harmonise the bans? And for what specific reasons did he exclude fewer countries than the US?
Secondly, passengers presently booked to fly from one of the affected airports are unclear about what the ban will mean for them in practice. For the increasing number of passengers who fly on “hand baggage only” fares, what procedures have been put in place proactively to communicate changes before they turn up at security queues at a busy airport? Will UK passengers have to buy luggage in order to carry their electronic devices? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with insurers, who do not routinely cover electronics carried in the hold, and what assessment has he made of the security of affected airports against theft and damage to devices?
Thirdly, efficacy. Have the restrictions been introduced in response to a specific threat that differs in nature from the al-Shabaab attack on an aircraft out of Mogadishu, which took place more than a year ago and did not result in the loss of the aircraft? Have checks on such items been stepped up, in addition to changes to their placement on aircraft? And what evidence does the Secretary of State have that placing potentially problematic items in the hold is safer than placing them in the cabin, especially as potentially explosive devices, such as lithium-ion batteries, have been banned from hold luggage?
Aviation security is rightly under constant review. Can the Secretary of State assure us that all has been done to ensure that these regulations are effective, consistent and put the passenger first?