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U.S., EU to meet next week in Washington to discuss aviation threats

U.S., EU to meet next week in Washington to discuss aviation threats
An illustration picture shows a laptop on the screen of an X-ray security scanner. Photo: Reuters

U.S., EU to meet next week in Washington to discuss aviation threats

BRUSSELS - U.S. and EU officials will meet next week in Washington for more talks about risks to air travel after a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday did not, as some industry watchers had expected, extend a cabin ban on large electronics devices.

"At the meeting, both sides exchanged information on the serious evolving threats to aviation security and approaches to confronting such threats," the EU executive and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a joint statement after the four-hour meeting on Wednesday.

"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."

A spokesman for Homeland Security said Wednesday no decision was expected this week on expanding the ban.

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 devices larger than cellphones onto flights originating from 10 airports, including those in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Britain followed suit with restrictions on a slightly different set of routes.

The United States has been mulling increasing the number of airports affected by the ban to possibly include some European ones, prompting the EU to hold an extraordinary meeting of aviation security officials last week.

Chief among the Europeans' concerns is the fire risk from placing hundreds of devices with lithium-ion batteries in the hold. EU officials have also asked the United States to share its intelligence, saying they don't see evidence for restrictions.

A senior U.S. administration official said there was no time frame for making a decision on the extension of the ban but U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly was "currently considering next steps."

The meeting next week is not tied to any decision by the U.S. government on expanding the ban, the official said.

"Secretary Kelly continues ... to make his decisions based on the intelligence and the threat and if that points to a decision being made in the next several days or next several weeks, he's going to do that."

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that should the ban be extended to flights from Europe it could cost passengers over $1 billion a year and create safety risks.

The U.S. administration official said intelligence "continues to point to terrorist groups targeting commercial aviation and they are gradually pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks including smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items."

"We did share additional information with our European partners today," the official added.

When asked about concerns over costs and disruption, the official said there would also be economic consequences of an aircraft being brought down by an attack.

Any extension of the ban could affect U.S. and European airlines such as United <UAL.N>, Delta <DAL.N>, American Airlines <AAL.O>, Lufthansa <LHAG.DE>, British Airways <ICAG.L> and Air France-KLM <AIRF.PA>.

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

According to airports association ACI Europe, there are 3,684 weekly flights being operated between European airports and the United States.

The five airports with the largest number of U.S. weekly flights are London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol and Dublin, ACI Europe said. REUTERS