Lithium Ion Battery Ban on Airlines
Redundant Authority Between FAA & TSA
Christine Negroni, a Fortune contributor, raises an excellent point in this quote:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security may be about to bar travelers from Europe to the U.S. from carrying their laptops onto the airplane, according to multiple reports. The intent is to prevent terrorists from hiding bombs in large electronic devices.
But beware, air travelers: Such an action would sacrifice safety for security.
Redundancy of safety systems is generally considered to be a good thing in aviation; for it is thought that having additional systems creates an added reduction of risk.
Duplication of governmental powers, however, is not highly regarded. While an added set of eyes may be desirable, two opinions/approaches/systems requiring compliance will likely lead to confusion and/or conflicting requirements. Ambiguity, as a consequence of dual authorities, diminishes safety.
Bizarrely, the FAA has agreed to permitting OSHA to assert its jurisdiction in the aviation workspace. This MoU has created the potential conflicts and there are already cases in which the FAA and OSHA perspectives may vary.
Ms. Negroni has nicely stated the possibility of conflict between TSA and the FAA. In exercising its aviation safety, the FAA, actually PHMSA, has determined that lithium ion batteries pose an “unacceptable risk” for carriage as cargo on passenger planes and some limit on their carriage on cargo plane should be set for they pose a safety risk. ICAO and then DOT/PHMSA/FAA issued a prohibition.
This image conveys the consequences of a fire started in the cargo belly from these batteries:
The security experts of TSA perceive that laptops could be used as an explosive device in the passenger cabin. The consequence of such a ban would be to compel them to be stored in baggage in the same below deck area.
Both may constitute valid concerns from differing statutory perspectives. Should the final policy be
- that the plane should not catch fire from the conflagration risk of lithium batteries in the belly?
- that the plane should not explode from the risk that a computer contains an indiscoverable bomb?
Or stated differently, how should the comparative threats be judged? What authority is preeminent— TSA or FAA? Can a conflict be resolved by FAA/DOT vs. TSA/DHS?
The FAA Reauthorization is pending before Congress – these questions should be resolved there. There may be some short-term resolution, but some definitive statutory language should be enacted!!!