(Adds U.S. security officials to meet with airlines Thursday,
paragraph 3, safety expert comment, paragraphs 11-13)
By Mark Hosenball and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON May 10 The Trump administration is
likely to expand a ban on laptops on commercial aircraft to
include some European countries, but is reviewing how to ensure
lithium batteries stored in luggage holds do not explode in
midair, officials briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.
Any expansion of the ban could impact U.S. carriers such as
United Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc and
American Airlines Group. Six U.S. and European officials
said they expect the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
to make an announcement but declined to say when.
DHS officials plan to meet with airline industry officials
on Thursday to discuss security issues, two people briefed on
the matter said. Also on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary
John Kelly will give a classified briefing to senators about
domestic threats and airline issues are expected to be
discussed, a congressional aide briefed on the matter said.
In March, the U.S. announced laptop restrictions on flights
originating from 10 airports including in the UAE, Saudi Arabia,
Qatar and Turkey because of fears that a concealed bomb could be
installed in electronic devices taken onto aircraft.
Britain quickly followed suit with restrictions on a
slightly different set of routes. One European official
acknowledged that the expanded ban could affect flights to the
United States from Britain.
DHS spokesman Dave Lapan said Kelly "hasn't made a decision
but we continue to evaluate the threat environment and have
engaged in discussions with airline representatives and other
stakeholders about the threat."
Some U.S. airlines have been making plans in the event of an
order to require them to bar passengers from traveling to the
United States without larger electronics in the cabin, airline
officials briefed on the matter said.
The U.S. laptop ban and on other electronic devices larger
than cell phones has affected direct flights to the United
States by Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish
Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air
Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
One issue under discussion is how to ensure that lithium
batteries in any large collection of devices stored in airplane
holds do not explode in midair, officials told Reuters.
European regulators have warned placing what could be
potentially hundreds of devices in the hold on long-haul flights
could compromise safety by increasing the risk of fire from
poorly deactivated lithium-ion batteries.
Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the National
Transportation Safety Board in the United States, said a
significant expansion of the in-cabin ban on larger electronics
"is going to represent a major logistical problem for airlines."
Goelz said more money needs to be spent to improve
"It is very difficult to determine whether a dense object is
actually a battery or a plastic explosive," Goelz said.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that a United Nations agency
has begun an effort to craft global guidance for the use of
laptops and other portable electronics in passenger aircraft
cabins after the bans upset airline passengers and Middle
The International Civil Aviation Organization met on Tuesday
to debate the issue after the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and
other countries complained their airlines had been unduly
penalized by the decision, three sources familiar with the
matter told Reuters.
Airports and airlines in Europe have already been working on
plans for a possible extension of the ban since the U.S.
announced the first restrictions on larger electronic devices in
the cabin, according to several industry sources.
Issues that need to be resolved include how best to inform
passengers of any new restrictions to keep disruption at
airports to a minimum. On the operational side, measures such as
stopping online check-in for U.S. bound flights or ensuring U.S.
flights depart from a dedicated part of terminals are among
ideas being mulled, although no decisions have yet been taken.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Mark Hosenball; additional
reporting by Victoria Bryan in Berlin and Tim Hepher in Paris;
Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Grant McCool)