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Aviation security – understanding the impact of bans on Personal Electronic Devices

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The decision by the US and UK governments to restrict the ability of passengers to carry some Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) onto flights to the US and UK, from nominated points of origin countries, will have wide reaching impacts for passengers and operators in the aviation sector.


The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) and the UK Department of Transport have issued instructions to ban PEDs larger than 16cm by 9.3cm by 1.5cm from being carried into the cabin of commercial aircraft on flights departing from a short list of nominated countries, inbound to the US and UK. The restrictions have caused some uncertainty as the US and UK have defined differing lists of countries of origin for affected flights.

These changes have implications for the digitisation of our lives and the work place. We now expect to socially interact and work wherever we go. Increasing connectivity on board commercial aircraft has enabled our ability to use the cabin as a work and entertainment space, using PEDs off, or online. Equally, use of such devices at the terminal once through airside security screening is now a given for travellers, with access to facilities being provided as a selling point for airline and airport lounges.

Is this a new security context?

Changes to what can be carried aboard aircraft in the cabin have historically been driven by available space and intelligence based security requirements. These latest restrictions will have a far greater impact than previous Liquid, Aerosols and Gels (LAG) restrictions as removal of PEDs and storage in hold baggage requires additional processes that might not meet passenger needs, and creates the need for a solution other than simple disposal. Additionally, passengers may change routing and carrier choices based on these restrictions, presenting a business challenge for organisations listed in the ban.

Reacting to short notice changes requires an agile response by airlines and airports alike, as they strive to meet security requirements, minimise customer inconvenience and enhance the
experience for passengers and crews. Recent events such as the Daallo Airlines explosion, the loss of the Metrojet flight from Egypt, and attacks at Brussels and Ataturk Airports demonstrate that attackers are innovative and will work around security measures, finding the weakest link in the security chain. Terrorists are not bound by international regulation and tight budgets so can often operate outside the restrictions faced by the people, processes and technology used to counter their threats.

The current list of countries and airports has been established based on intelligence threat and risk assessment. However the ability of threat actors to by-pass these measures by collaboration, use of insider threats, or alternative routing, means these restrictions may well expand to other locations. The international community remains poised to decide whether to enforce similar restrictions to those of the US and UK. Like the LAG restrictions, the PED restrictions are unlikely to be reversed in the short term even though technology races to enhance detection of threats during screening to allow PEDs to be taken into the more vulnerable cabin space.

Minimising the impact

Solutions must be sought by airlines and airports alike, working in harmony to minimise the impact on the passenger experience both at the terminal and on board the aircraft. However, there is a danger that some of the solutions will create friction in the passenger flow system elsewhere such as baggage handling systems and gate operations.

Security solutions rely on clearly defined policies and well developed governance over processes and people which are often overlooked in favour of a technical solution. Most technical solutions require support via a robust security process.

How security is provided and managed, as part of routine business, is critical to reducing the impact on passengers and staff alike. Typical activities that aid the transition into new procedures include:

  • Effective and clear adjustment of policies and controls
  • Training for staff
  • Awareness raising for passengers before arrival at terminals, and prior to security check-points which are likely to become choke points
  • Communication of the changes across stakeholders internally and externally

Some of the issues to be expected include:

  • Delays – delays at security check points and check-in desks as passengers query the restrictions, and look to re-pack hold baggage
  • Capacity – additional capacity requirements on Baggage Handling Systems flow needs to be considered as additional hold baggage is generated
  • Resources – additional human resources, logistics and storage solutions to support measures to check PEDs into the hold later in the passenger journey
  • Screening – potential need for additional screening facilities
  • Data protection – consideration for insurance and data protection needs where PEDs are taken from individuals, and placed in a system owned by the airline, airport, or baggage
    handling company

Longer term solutions may rely more heavily on technical solutions to enable more explicit and efficient screening capabilities, while continuing to develop the ability to use smaller smart ‘wearables’ as interfaces with cabin equipment or departure lounge facilities. In the short-term, the controls will inevitably be highly focussed around people and awareness.

What can the aviation sector do?

To avoid being reactive to changes in threats and the associated risks, aviation businesses need to adopt an agile stance in their security operations and approach to passenger needs. This requires a robust and tested Security Management System (SeMS) that has capacity to flex requirements within its framework and meet the continuing challenges that are inevitably going to arise.
This system must be supported by appropriate resources to identify operational requirements and conduct risk assessments, while delivering a compliant service as a minimum operating

How we can help

Deloitte has a wealth of experience in the aviation sector, helping airline and airport clients globally to enhance its crisis management, business continuity and transport security. Our
deep knowledge of the sector and our global insight provides an unparalleled capability to assist clients in developing an agile risk based approach to operations.

For further information contact:

Graham Pickett
Global Lead Partner, Aviation and Travel

Dominic Cockram
Partner, Regester Larkin by Deloitte