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US, EU set meeting on airline security, electronic devices


WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS: US and European officials will discuss airline security at a high-level meeting in Brussels next week, including possible expansion of the number of airports where passengers are banned from carrying electronic devices bigger than cellphones aboard flights, a European Union official said on Friday.

The official said US Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly told European ministers over the phone on Friday that the department does not plan immediate any new measures.

Earlier, US Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said no final decision had been made on whether to expand the restrictions.

Fears that a bomb could be concealed in electronic devices prompted the United States to announce in March that it would restrict passengers from bringing laptops onto flights originating from 10 airports including in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Britain followed suit with restrictions on a slightly different set of routes.

Airlines and several countries affected by the electronics ban have pushed for more consultation with American and British regulators after the abrupt introduction of the restrictions took the industry by surprise.

US and European carriers are concerned about the logistics of checking large numbers of devices.

Some airline officials say they would need to hire more staff to impose additional restrictions, and they are worried about how much advance notice they would have.

On Wednesday, media reported that the Trump administration is likely to include some European countries in the in-cabin electronics ban.

Some US and European airlines have been planning for a wider ban, industry officials have said.

European regulators have warned that placing hundreds of devices in the hold on long-haul flights could also compromise safety by increasing the risk of fire from poorly deactivated lithium-ion batteries.

Kelly briefed members of Congress on Thursday and held a meeting with high level executives of Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines Group Inc and Airlines For America, a trade group.

A congressional official said Homeland Security was likely to expand the ban soon, but did not say when or to what airports.

The airlines declined to comment.

The trade group said in a statement it appreciated the meeting “to discuss the current state of aviation security.”

The group voted to work with government officials to “minimize the impact on the travel-ling public by utilizing the risk-based solutions that are the core of our foundation as the safest aviation system in the world.”

In 2016, 30 million people flew to the United States from Europe, according to US Transportation Department data.

According to airports association ACI Europe, summer schedules for 2017 at airports in 28 European Union countries show there are 3,257 flights per week to the United States.

Kelly said last month the ban was likely to expand, given the sophisticated threats in aviation and intelligence findings that would-be attackers were trying to hide explosives in electronic devices. — Reuters

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