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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Aircraft laptop ban could have cost Emirates half of its US business, airline president says

Sir Tim Clark said airport and authorities pulled together to meet security demands and keep passengers happy

The US banned electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins of direct flights from eight countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, including Qatar and the UAE. It was later lifted in several countries, including the UAE. Photo: AFP
The US banned electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from passenger cabins of direct flights from eight countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, including Qatar and the UAE. It was later lifted in several countries, including the UAE. Photo: AFP

Emirates airline could have lost as much as half of its business to the United States had it, Dubai Airports and security not rallied together to effectively manage the laptop ban, the head of the carrier said.

Sir Tim Clark said the ability to meet the conditions of the ban within 96 hours and avoid disruption of travellers is an example of how collaborative and innovative thinking can work for the aviation industry.

The carrier's president was speaking during an opening address of the Avsec aviation summit in Dubai on Sunday.

“When the new protocols were first announced, airlines, airports and other stakeholders were caught by surprise. And we had just 96 hours to implement the directive,” Sir Tim told an audience of aviation and security industry figures.

The directive was issued by the Trump administration for a number of airports in the Middle East and North Africa in March over of concerns that explosives that could be concealed in laptops and tablets. It was lifted in July for Emirates and Etihad, among others.

Sir Tim said the ban "affected us probably more than any other airline". Emirates cut flights on five US routes at the time.

“Each day, we connect thousands of passengers from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, to 12 cities in the US," he said.

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“For us, the new electronics ban protocol was hugely disruptive and we could have lost up to 50 per cent of our loads to the US, if not for the swift and collaborative response from all the aviation stakeholders here in Dubai."

The airline collaborated with the airport, police and other security operators to meet the deadline by complying with the new directive.

The ban ultimately resulted in a dip on routes to the US by as much as 20 per cent.

He said the airline they came up with a solution to allow travellers use their electronic devices on their flights to Dubai, while in transit at the airport, and all the way until the moment they boarded their US-bound flight.

“We found a way to collect these devices at the boarding gate, and then pack, secure, and place anything larger than a phablet into the hold, to be returned to their owners on arrival in the US," he said.

He said this kept customers happy, and all the more understanding of the circumstances.

“Dubai led the way, and other airlines and airports soon followed suit.”

The issue was followed by yet another challenge.

“We were given 21 days to put in place increased explosive trace detection screening and 120 days to comply with a number of other security measures," he said.

In response, all concerned aviation stakeholders worked together to procure new screening technology, and deploy trained personnel.

This “success story”, he said, illustrates how even under pressure, collaborative efforts could lead to the best outcome.

“We believe that as an industry, we should take a proactive approach to anticipating and addressing the threats and challenges of the future," he said.