by Mark Albert
WASHINGTON (TVR) – The secretary of Homeland Security is issuing an ultimatum to 71 airports: either increase security, or the Trump administration will expand the controversial electronics ban to cover flights from those locations.
Secretary John Kelly revealed the new posture during testimony to Congress Wednesday (WATCH his testimony below).
Currently, the ban on electronics larger than a smartphone is in place for non-stop flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa.
However, Kelly disclosed to the House Homeland Security Committee that a top aide of his will tell security officials from dozens of airports throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa gathered in Malta next week that only if they meet “what we think are the minimum security standards” will the U.S. “not ban large electronics” on those flights.
“We’re also looking at ways that we think we can mitigate the threat,” Kelley said, without having to implement the ban on all international flights into and out of the U.S.
The U.S. is also weighing the risk of putting so many lithium-ion batteries into the cargo hold of aircraft, where they’ve previously been severely limited because of the fire risk.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao acknowledged before a Senate committee hearing Wednesday that the electronics ban could create a problem, Reuters reported.
“This is a difficult issue that the administration is grappling with especially from a security point of view,” the wire service quoted Chao as saying.
Crew members were able to put out laptop battery fire on a JetBlue flight last month only because it was in the cabin and not underneath in the cargo hold, CBS News reported.
Laptop Bomb Seen As Serious Threat
Kelly had vowed last month “to raise the bar” for aviation security worldwide “much higher than it is now,” during an appearance on FOX News Sunday.
“There’s new technologies down the road, not too far down the road that we will rely on. But it is a real sophisticated threat and I will reserve that decision until we see where it’s going,” Kelly explained.
U.S. officials said the initial electronics ban was put in place because “evaluated intelligence” showed terrorist groups were keen on developing new, stealth explosives that could fit into a laptop-sized device and be carried on an aircraft, endangering passengers and crew.
Explosives inside a laptop detonated onboard a Daallo Airlines flight last year while the aircraft was in mid-air.
Only the suspected bomber died and the plane landed safely, despite a gaping hole in the fuselage.
ISIS has been testing “a new generation of more powerful explosives” at Mosul University in Iraq that could then be concealed in a laptop computer, CBS News has reported.
Mosul has been under the militants’ control since 2014.
Impact of Expansion on Aviation Security
Such a sweeping directive would impact hundreds of millions of passengers each year, according to Department of Transportation statistics.
Airlines had 259.9 million “available seats” on flights into and out of the United States for the 12-month period ending in March, the DOT figures show, up 7% from the same time period a year prior.
Europe is the largest international gateway for travel to and from the U.S., with 58.9 passengers for that same time period.
Government representatives in Europe were initially frustrated at a lack of consultation when it appeared several weeks ago that the Trump administration was about to take unilateral action on requiring large electronics to be placed in the cargo hold.
In a statement issued after the U.S. and European Commission met in Brussels, a spokesperson for the E.C. told The Voyage Report that “Both sides agreed to intensify talks both at technical and political level to find common solutions to mitigate potential threats to aviation security and work together to step up security requirements.”
LISTEN to reporter Mark Albert discuss the latest on the electronics ban on KFI-AM 640 in Los Angeles: