MIAMI – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a set of enhanced security and screening measures for all international passenger flights to the United States on Wednesday, pushing off the expansion of the ban on large electronics in the cabin that already applies to flights from several airports in Muslim majority countries. According to a fact sheet released by DHS, the enhanced security measures will include:
Enhancing overall passenger screening;
Conducting heightened screening of personal electronic devices;
Increasing security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas; and
Deploying advanced technology, expanding canine screening, and establishing additional preclearance locations
The measures will affect all international, commercial flights inbound to the United States, including flights from countries with US Customs & Border Protection Pre-Clearance. The measures will affect 180 airlines flying 2,100 daily flights to and from 280 airports in 105 countries. On an annualized basis, close to 120 million passengers will be impacted by this process.
A reasonable approach to expanding security
At first glance, these changes do not seem substantially onerous for airlines, especially as compared to the drastic effect of a cabin electronics ban.
Moreover, because they are applied uniformly, they will not have anywhere near as major of an impact in terms of reshaping global traffic flows.
In the case of the electronic ban, since they only affected Middle Eastern carriers, hundreds of passengers per day booked away from the Middle Eastern giants (Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, and Turkish Airlines) onto local carriers like Air India.
But with these security measures, since every airport worldwide is affected, there is no inequality of impact. It thus gives more credence to the DHS’ claim of a “‘spider web’ of threats to commercial aviation as terrorist pursue new attack methods.”
For security reasons, the DHS did not get more specific than the bullets noted above, but they do not necessarily seem like they are impossible to comply with by any means.
Perhaps most importantly in a global aviation context, the DHS also provided an out for the existing countries affected by the cabin electronics ban – who can get the ban lifted if they comply with DHS protocols. This will be a huge source of relief in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, and Istanbul as the flag carriers in those countries are under substantial revenue pressure.
They had already seen a decline in fares due to the low price of fuel since 2014 and took a big hit in bookings from business travelers who carry sensitive information on their laptops (and were thus unwilling to let their laptops fly in the belly of the plane).
The news isn’t all good for the Middle Eastern carriers, however. The United States Supreme Court recently upheld the administration’s proposed travel ban affecting travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
This ban had a chilling effect on bookings both directly from those nations and from other Muslim countries in a more indirect manner (due to fear on the part of travelers).
Meanwhile, the big loser from the DHS expansion is Air India, who has seen a massive surge in demand for its nonstop flights to and from the United States as a result of the cabin electronics ban.
We have heard rumblings that Air India’s announcement of new routes to Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth was in part triggered by the growth in passenger volumes to the U.S. after the ban.
The DHS didn’t give specific timelines for when the ban could be lifted, but in general, the enhanced security measures will be rolled out “over the course of the next several weeks and months,” so that may be a useful guide for the ban timeline as well.
Certain airports may find it harder to comply
The DHS did hint strongly that countries and airports that do not comply with the enhanced schedule may end up being subject to the cabin electronics ban instead, and this is where airports in poorer countries or smaller airports with just 1-2 flights per day to the U.S. may find it harder to comply.
While these changes are not onerous for airlines, they may be expensive for airports, particularly those that do not already have a dedicated wing for U.S. flights.
This will be relatively easy to comply with at say Frankfurt or Hong Kong, where the volume of U.S. flights is high enough to have a dedicated pier of 4-5 gates exclusively for US departures. Conversely, an airport like Baku, Azerbaijan that has a few US flights per week isn’t going to be able to dedicate a portion of its airport to American flights.
This leaves it with two pretty unsavory options. The first is to impose a huge penalty on its home carrier (Azal Azerbaijan Airlines in this case) by getting a cabin ban slapped on the airport. The second is to incur a relatively high cost to impose all of the enhanced security protocols per the DHS’ requirements.
Paradoxically, these enhanced security protocols may actually end up helping the Middle Eastern giants more in the long run as the airports that are least likely to be able to afford to comply are going to be airports in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. All of these regions are natural feed points for the MEB3 and as a
All of these regions are natural feed points for the MEB3 and as a result, will make those airports perhaps even stronger with extra business travel demand.