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Airlines group urges alternatives to extending electronics ban

BERLIN (Reuters) - A global airlines group urged governments on Wednesday to look for alternatives to extending a cabin ban on large electronics devices, saying such a move could cost passengers about $1.1 billion a year and create new safety risks.

An illustration picture shows a laptop on the screen of an X-ray security scanner, April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/Illustration

U.S. and EU officials are due to meet later on Wednesday to discuss aviation security, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security having said an extension of the ban, which currently affects flights from the Middle East and north Africa, was likely.

Airlines, airports and pilots groups have raised concerns over the possible disruption and fire risks of placing large numbers 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.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 265 airlines, said that while current restrictions on laptops in cabins on flights from the Middle East and north Africa affect 350 flights a week, some 390 flights a day would be impacted if it was extended to European airports.

In a letter to U.S. Homeland Security chief John Kelly and EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, IATA head Alexandre de Juniac called on governments to consider alternatives to a ban, such as methods to detect traces of explosives at airport security checkpoints, better training of staff and use of behavioural detection officers.

“These alternative measures would also avoid the concentration of lithium battery-powered devices in the cargo hold of passenger aircraft which is deemed to create an additional safety threat,” De Juniac wrote.

Using its own data and that of the U.S Federal Aviation Administration, IATA estimated extending the ban would cost passengers $655 million a year in loss of productive time, $216 million in longer travel and $195 million in reduced wellbeing.

Airports association ACI Europe said 60-90 percent of passengers using European airports were estimated to carry larger electronics devices and any extension of restrictions would require a big increase in security staff at airports.

Deploying extra staff would take time because they would need to be trained and get security clearance.

“Beyond the immediate operational impact, we are concerned about the consequences that such a ban would have on demand for transatlantic air travel – and ultimately connectivity between Europe and the United States,” ACI Europe director Olivier Jankovec added in a statement.

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.

Transatlantic flights are among the most lucrative for airlines, because they can sell premium seats to business travellers.

The European airports that have the most flights to the United States are London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol and Dublin, ACI Europe said.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti in Brussels; Editing by Mark Potter