19 MAY 2017: The good news is that no US ban on laptops has been imposed on European flights. The bad news is that there is no actual decision – yet - it’s just been postponed. A four-hour meeting Wednesday between EU and US officials to discuss the possibility that the US will extend a ban on laptops in aircraft cabins to European airports ended without a conclusion.

But don’t start relaxing travellers, a follow-up meeting is set for next week in Washington.

The meeting in Brussels was attended by US deputy secretary of homeland security Elaine Duke and her counterparts from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK.

The EU commissioners for home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and transport, Violeta Bulc, were also present.

The talks included both a technical meeting, and a political one in a secure environment.

That’s ironic given the sieve-like qualities of this US Administration. Even more ironic, given the recent headlines on information imparted to the Russians, some “appropriately cleared” European allies were given more detailed information about the specific threat of explosives hidden in laptops that precipitated the possibility of an expanded electronics ban, a senior Trump administration official said in a briefing following the meeting.

The statement said the participants could, “further assess shared risks and solutions for protecting airline passengers, whilst ensuring the smooth functioning of global air travel”.

But let's not forget who’s calling the shots. A US official added that the ban is “under consideration” and that the US reserves the right to unilaterally implement the measure whenever it decides there is an imminent threat.

However, it has been reported that an official who followed the talks said the ban was 'off the table' for now. He spoke on condition of anonymity to release details of the sensitive negotiations.

The industry had been sent into a state of panic after reports emerged that US officials were looking to extend to Europe a ban on electronics in cabins on flights from eight mostly Muslim countries.

The US Department of Homeland Security is aware of the operational and economic implications of the possible ban, said the official, but “the consequences of an aircraft going down outweigh the other considerations.”

The existing ban, introduced in March, applies to flights from Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Experts have said extending the ban to flights from Europe would affect over 65 million passengers annually and would have a severe impact on both transatlantic business and leisure travel.

Not to be taken lightly, pilots have expressed alarm at the risk of fire from storing large numbers of lithium batteries in the hold. Then there is the question as to why it is safer with the laptops in the baggage compartment? Surely such sophisticated technology doesn't actually require a finger on a keyboard and  can be remotely detonated?

And one more thing, what was the cost to taxpayers to have Duke, plus undoubtedly various assistants, associates, secretaries etc. fly over to Brussels for a meeting at which, I would venture to guess, the outcome was pretty obvious from the start?

And next week, the Europeans get to come to Washington to do it all over again.



 

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