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European airlines bracing for expansion of Trump's laptop ban

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The European Commission has written to President Donald Trump's administration to urge cooperation on any new measures.

[LONDON] European airlines are preparing for the anticipated widening of a US ban on bringing laptops and other large electronic devices on board planes bound for American airports.

Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are among carriers to say they're making preparations for the moratorium on devices, including tablets and games consoles, to be expanded to their hubs after initially targeting Mideast and African airports. The European Commission has written to President Donald Trump's administration to urge cooperation on any new measures.

"We are in contact with our partners and the authorities, and we're preparing for the possibility," Air France spokeswoman Ulli Gendrot said by phone. "We understand that there's a meeting in Washington with airlines on this topic today, so we should know more after that." Lufthansa has been working internally on different scenarios for responding to any extension of the ban, spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf said. Both companies have close ties to major US operators, with Air France-KLM allied to Delta Air Lines Inc and Lufthansa partnered with United Continental Holdings Inc.

The US announced on March 21 that electronic devices larger than smart phones would be banned from cabins on flights originating from eight countries, impacting global hubs including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul. The action, which affects major carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, resulted from fears that bombs capable of downing an airliner could be hidden in the devices.

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EU Appeal Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Representative John Katko, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Transportation Security Subcommittee, have said in recent weeks that the initial curbs were prompted by strong intelligence and that an expansion was possible.

A DHS spokesman added Tuesday that a broader application of the measures was being considered, but that a decision hadn't been made. The department didn't respond to an emailed request for more information on Wednesday.

EU Commissioners Dimitris Avramopoulos and Violeta Bulc have meanwhile written to their American counterparts about the matter. The communication says that the bloc has had "a long-standing and fruitful cooperation on security" with the US and that the two should act together "to provide a joint response to shared threats," spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said Thursday.

Airports Council International, which represents hubs around the world, said it has been liaising with bodies including the International Air Transport Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the European Commission and the DHS's Transportation Security Administration in anticipation of the ban being extended.

"We're trying to make sure that there is good coordination in airports and airlines," said Robert O'Meara, a spokesman for ACI Europe. "The key thing is to make sure the message is communicated to a coherent way." British Airways referred calls to the UK Department for Transport, which said it doesn't discuss security measures or comment on speculation. Britain has imposed a laptops ban of its own affecting direct flights from six states.

Dubai-based Emirates said it's unwilling to comment until an extension has been formally announced and it knows which European countries will be affected. The carrier has previously suggested the current ban is discriminatory and is paring capacity to the US as the measures impact occupancy levels.

Shortly after the original ban was announced the Flight Safety Foundation, a leading aviation safety group, warned that it could create risks by shifting scores of lithium-battery powered devices to cargo holds. Officials are coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide carriers with a bulletin on the proper handling of batteries, DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke said last month.