Talks Continue After Laptop Ban on all Europe Flights to US Averted

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Talks between the EU and the US over controversial plans by the US to ban laptops and large electronic devices in the cabins of all flights from Europe over fears a bomb could be concealed in a device have ended with an agreement to hold off a ban, but to continue talks over other security measures.

There was an outcry in Europe when media reports started circulating that the US was considering a ban on laptops, tablets and some phones in the cabin of all flights across the Atlantic over fears that it had intelligence that terrorists were considering concealing bombs in them.

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The US has already introduced such a ban on flights from Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; as well as  Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

However, EU officials were alarmed over reports that the US was planning to extend the ban to all flights from Europe and called an urgent meeting with US officials May 17. European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, hosted a delegation from the US in Brussels, led by Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke.

"No ban on electronic devices [on flights from Europe] was announced, nor were any other measures decided during this meeting," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said, following the meeting.

She said that the decision was made to continue the talks on a "technical level" in Washington the following week.

Both sides exchanged information on the serious evolving threats to aviation security and approaches to confronting such threats. Participants provided insight into existing aviation security standards and detection capabilities as well as recent security enhancements on both sides of the Atlantic related to large electronic devices placed in checked baggage," a joint statement said.

"The United States and the European Union reaffirmed their commitment to continue working closely together on aviation security generally, including meeting next week in Washington D.C. to further assess shared risks and solutions for protecting airline passengers, whilst ensuring the smooth functioning of global air travel."

Greater Fire Risk

Forcing passengers to stow their electronic devices in the hold could cause a greater risk to life, according to the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA), who say the risk arising from storing portable electronic devices in the hold where they may catch fire without being noticed could be greater than the security risk of having them in the cabin.

"Given the risk of fire from these devices when they are damaged or they short circuit, an incident in the cabin would be spotted earlier and this would enable the crew to react quickly before any fire becomes uncontainable," said BALPA Flight Safety Specialist, Steve Landells.

"If these devices are kept in the hold, the risk is that if a fire occurs the results can be catastrophic; indeed, there have been two crashes where lithium batteries have been cited in the accident reports.

"We don't doubt the security threats that have led to consideration of extending the ban on devices but we urge the authorities to carefully assess the additional fire risk from storing more PEDs in the hold to ensure we're not solving one problem by creating a worse one," he said.

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