EU, US hold 'robust' talks on possible airline laptop ban

BRUSSELS: Top US and EU officials traded intelligence Wednesday on what they called "serious evolving threats" to airline security as Washington mulls banning carry-on computers on flights from Europe.

Both sides said they intended to hold more talks next week in Washington on a possible ban of such equipment.

"Both sides exchanged information on the serious evolving threats to aviation security and approaches to confronting such threats," a joint statement said.

They discussed "existing aviation security standards and detection capabilities" as well as security improvements "related to large electronic devices placed in checked baggage," it added.

The US Department of Homeland Security sparked deep concern in Europe last week when it said it would soon decide on extending to European airlines a carry-on computer ban on flights from eight mostly Muslim countries.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc took part in what US officials said were four hours of "robust" talks with a US delegation led by Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

But a senior US administration official told reporters on a conference call that there were points of agreement and points they were continuing to discuss.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was mulling "next steps" and would make any decision based on an evaluation of threats, the official said on condition of anonymity.

"Secretary Kelly has made no decision on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins, but the decision is currently under consideration," the senior official said.

A US ban on now ubiquitous laptops could cause havoc, with more than 3,250 flights a week scheduled to leave EU airports for the US this summer, according to industry data.

Some experts also say there is a security risk in putting them with checked luggage given the danger of their batteries catching fire.

In March, Washington banned passengers from eight countries in North Africa and the Middle East from bringing laptop computers, tablets and other electronic devices larger than cellphones as carry-on items.

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

The move, which requires passengers to put the devices into checked baggage, came amid concerns that jihadist groups were devising bombs disguised as batteries in consumer electronics items.

A bomb that blew a hole in the fuselage of a Somali airliner in February 2016, killing one person, is believed to have been built into a laptop computer carried into the passenger cabin. — AFP