US, EU discuss further curbs on in-cabin electronic devices

A laptop being screened by an X-ray scanner. US airlines are urging alternative solutions to the government's ban on electronic devices as part of carry-on luggage on flights to the US from certain countries.
A laptop being screened by an X-ray scanner. US airlines are urging alternative solutions to the government's ban on electronic devices as part of carry-on luggage on flights to the US from certain countries.PHOTO REUTERS

BRUSSELS • Secretary John Kelly of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spoke with European officials yesterday to discuss threats to aviation and a possible expansion of a ban on in-cabin electronics larger than cellphones, US and European officials said.

DHS spokesman David Lapan said no announcement was planned as yet on whether the United States government will expand the ban and that no final decision had been made on expanding the restrictions.

Airlines flying to the US from European airports that would be involved in implementing the policy have been warned it is under consideration, the department said.

The talks follow a push by airlines and several countries affected by the electronics ban for more consultation with American and British regulators following the abrupt introduction in March, which largely took the industry by surprise.

In March, Washington banned passengers on direct US-bound flights from 10 airports in eight countries from hand-carrying laptop computers, tablets and other electronic devices larger than cellphones. The airports are in Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East.

Britain followed with a similar ban applying to incoming flights from six Middle East and North African countries.

The move, which forces passengers to put their electronic devices into checked baggage, came as counter-terror officials developed concerns that terrorist groups were devising bombs disguised as batteries in consumer electronics.

Extending the curbs to Europe would disrupt one of the world's busiest and most lucrative travel markets just ahead of the peak summer tourism season.

It could hinder business passengers' ability to work during long- haul routes across the Atlantic. More than 3,000 flights are expected to arrive in the US from the EU each week this summer. The US is the world's second-largest market for spending on business travel, after China, according to the Global Business Travel Association.

Separately, Homeland Security officials met major US airlines and a trade group on Thursday to discuss the impact of possibly expanding the ban, three sources briefed on the meeting said. The meeting included Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and trade group Airlines for America.

US airlines have been pushing alternative solutions they believe will address security concerns, such as asking passengers to turn on their electronic devices and subjecting all devices to explosive-detection swabs. Another strategy might be to use CT X-ray technology, which uses scores of X-ray images from multiple vantage points to provide a higher-definition image. CT is used for checked bags but is not available for carry-on luggage.

Some carriers serving routes where the electronics ban has been imposed have begun loaning equipment to premium customers.

The Trump administration is also reviewing how to ensure lithium batteries stored in luggage do not explode in mid-air.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'US, EU discuss further curbs on in-cabin electronic devices'. Print Edition | Subscribe