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The ban on electronic devices will not fly

By Mohammad Al Asoomi, Special to Gulf News

With Donald Trump coming to power, the US decision-makers have made up their minds to take indirect decisions to disadvantage Gulf airline companies through a number of procedures, the last of which was the recently announced ban on large electronic devices aboard some flights.

The measures taken against Gulf airlines by the current US administration follows the footsteps of the previous, due to the failure of US carriers to lead in the highly competitive airline industry and their constant complaints about the “official” support for Gulf airlines.

And to throw dust in our eyes, other Middle East carriers were listed in the ban so that it does not appear to be targeting Gulf ones alone. Over the past 40 years, we have become deaf to Western media preaching about the freedom and openness of markets and not to impose restrictions. In some cases, many countries were subjected to pressures to facilitate the free movement of capital.

This approach, which was enhanced by globalisation, is now being dumped by the same countries that called for it, such as the US, which imposes complex protective measures. Therefore, the recent US decision against Gulf airline companies has no security basis but are commercial measures aiming to improve their airlines’ competitiveness after losing their lustre due to mismanagement and declining level of their services.

High security in the Gulf

In fact, these decisions will not do good for US companies, as such a critical situation requires delving into the root cause of the deterioration and improve systems and the level of services.

It is well known that security measures applied by Gulf airline companies are among the best as recorded by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The proof of that is the multiple security breaches that took place at some US and European airports and airline companies while none have ever taken place at any Gulf airport thanks to the high security levels as can be noticed when travelling from GCC airports.

The US decision reminds us of measures taken by some developing countries who were not able to develop their economies over six decades. Instead, they adopted protective measures that moved them backwards, as was the case earlier in Eastern Europe. The USA Today newspaper indicated that besides the unwelcome political atmosphere, American tourism may incur losses of up to $18 billion (Dh66 billion) over the course of the coming two years, as potential visitors get dissuaded. Tourism brings in $252 billion.

According to IATA, “The new regulations imposed by the US to forbid passengers of some Middle Eastern countries from carrying large electronic devices inside passengers’ cabins are not acceptable and may break confidence in air travel.”

Limited impact

Although there is a little fear among the targeted companies in the Middle East, we expect nothing more than a limited impact and that would not benefit US companies. Looking into the number of passengers using electronic devices, including those in business class, we will find that tech advances have made small devices perform the same functions as large ones.

Interestingly, some Gulf airline companies, such as Etihad Airways, offered passengers alternatives like free iPads and Wi-Fi while Emirates airline is taking other procedures.

Therefore, prices and level of services are the crucial factors in the aviation sector and this is what US and European airlines have to reconsider so that they don’t incur further losses. The security procedures seem logical to no one and have tarnished their image, ignoring the fact that everyone — including decision-makers — know the true motives — the commercial dimension — behind such procedures.

Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries.

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