EU Said to Be in the Dark About Laptop Risks Before U.S. Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- A day before U.S. and European Union officials meet to discuss prohibiting passengers bound for America from carrying laptops and other electronic devices on board airplane cabins, Europeans remain in the dark about the actual threat.

The EU has no information on the reasons that have made laptops and tablets an imminent risk to air safety, a Brussels-based official with knowledge of the discussions between the two sides said. That missing intelligence is why the bloc has invited the U.S. to share any data they may have, a second European government official said. They both asked not to be identified, as the matter is sensitive.

European irritation at the lack of information-sharing comes amid increasing tensions after the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump revealed to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador closely held intelligence from a U.S. partner about an Islamic State terrorist plot to use laptop computers as possible weapons aboard commercial aircraft.

The EU is going to host a high-level meeting with U.S authorities in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a possible extension of the so-called laptop ban beyond 10 Middle Eastern airports, which was decreed on March 21. The gathering is taking place “in order to jointly assess any new threats and work towards a common approach to address them,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels earlier this week.

Transferring laptops from the cabin to the cargo hold could create other issues, as lithium-based batteries can themselves be unstable. Aside from the fires involving Samsung Note 7 smartphones, two incidents have been linked to the batteries: a UPS crash in September 2010 and another involving an Asiana Airlines cargo flight in July 2011, according to John Strickland, an aviation analyst with JLS Consulting Ltd.

EU’s Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc also highlighted “the potential safety implications of putting a large number of electronic devices in the aircraft hold,” according to a statement by the EU’s executive arm last week. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security John Kelly in a phone call on Friday that the potential threat affects the EU and the U.S in the same way, that information should be shared, and that the responses should be common.

Although the EU said no ban on electronic devices or any other decisions was announced in a call between the U.S. Homeland Security chief and Bulc and Avramopoulos on Friday, European airports and airlines are quietly preparing for a ban, which would chiefly affect lucrative premium-class travelers.

“It’s a big negative in terms of travel experience for business passengers if they have to wait at baggage claim to collect their laptops,” said Mark Simpson, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers. “Overall, this is a headwind and will add to boarding delays, issues regarding on-time departures and a cost to airlines of offering alternatives.”