European officials have invited their US counterparts to Europe for talks on aviation security in a bid to make their voices heard, as European airports and airlines on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean brace for an expected extension of the ban on electronics in aircraft cabins.

Since March, in response to the ongoing threat of terrorism, the US has required passengers on flights originating in 10 airports to place laptops, tablets, e-readers and cameras in checked-in baggage. The move directly affects eight predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern countries, and has had a financial impact on the region’s carriers.

The US Homeland Security Department (DHS) is expected to announce similar measures for flights from European destinations imminently, but European officials are calling for the US and Europe to work together and come up with a “common response” to the threat.

DHS said no decision is expected on May 12. “[DHS] Secretary [John] Kelly continuously engages with various stakeholders about threats to aviation,” DHS spokesman David Lapan said via email, confirming that Kelly spoke to European officials May 12. They included Dimitris Avramopoulos, European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship; European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc; and several European ministers. They were following up on a letter that the two commissioners sent May 9.

“There was a very constructive exchange of views on the way forward between the US and the EU,” a European Commission spokesman said. No ban on electronic devices or any other decision had been announced regarding US-EU flights, the spokesman added.

Avramopoulos noted that the threat affects the EU and the US in the same way, and that information should be shared. Bulc highlighted the potential safety implications of putting a large number of electronic devices in the aircraft hold, the spokesman said.

“The EU invited the US to come to Brussels next week for talks at [the] political and expert level[s], to be hosted by the European Commission, in order to jointly assess the potential risks and review future measures,” the spokesman said.

European airlines and airports operating flights to the US are expecting the ban to be extended, and are working on contingency plans. One airline said it was working with airports to ensure any extra checks that may be needed are carried out with a minimum of disruption. The airport also was ensuring that its communications to passengers about any new regulations would be efficient.

Kelly met May 11 with senior leadership from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, ATW sister publication Aviation Daily has confirmed. Kelly did not meet with the CEOs of the airlines.

The US carriers said they would comply with any additional security measures, but they also outlined alternatives to an outright ban, several people familiar with the matter told Aviation Daily. These include possible secondary screening at gates or the use of new technologies to scan electronic devices, the sources said.

The US put the existing ban in place as a response to the threat of terrorism. Extending the ban would raise more questions about safety if airlines were forced to stow large numbers of lithium-ion battery-powered devices in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft.

The existing ban already has had an impact on airlines.
Emirates said the measure contributed to its profit plunging 70% for the year ending in March.

An Air France-KLM spokesman said: “Air France-KLM is closely monitoring the subject. We are in contact with our partners and the authorities. At this stage, there is no information confirming the ban and its potential impact.”

Norwegian and British Airways declined to comment.

Helen Massy-Beresford,

 Madhu Unnikrishnan,