Expanded airline electronics carry-on ban close to being announced by DHS

CBS News has learned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is close to announcing an expanded ban on electronics larger than a cell phone carried on to the cabin of airlines bound for the U.S. A final decision has not been made but what’s taking shape is an expanded ban that is “likely” to contain a “substantial increase in the number of airports to include major airports in Europe,” according to officials familiar with the ongoing discussions.

Airlines say they’ve had growing indications the expanded ban could include all European airports with flights bound for the United States and have begun making preparations.

Lufthansa said in a statement that it “has internally evaluated different scenarios for possible enhancements of the ban.”

U.S. officials are set to meet with airlines Thursday. Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been involved in these discussions and are generally supportive of a wider ban.

DHS spokesman Dave Lapan tweeted that “no final decisions” have been made about expanding the restriction, though it’s “under consideration,” he wrote. “DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travelers safe.”

When could the announcement come?

CBS News has been told, as of now, the announcement will not be Thursday, though things are changing quickly.

In March, DHS implemented a ban on flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa.  Sources say these ongoing discussions are focused largely on airports in Europe and the Middle East and trying to reduce or “buy down” the risk of an explosive getting on an airliner bound for the United States. Sources indicate the conversations to date have not centered on a global carry-on ban of larger personal electronics.

DHS has been in talks with airlines and other stakeholders about the “threat environment” for some time, with the focus still on the possibility terrorists may have constructed an explosive that might not be detected by some airport scanning technology and appear to be a battery in a laptop or tablet.  That is coupled with continued concern about former ISIS fighters from Western Europe returning home and being able to easily travel to the U.S. on passports from countries that don’t require a visa.

On Tuesday, European Union Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos sent letters to their U.S. Counterparts Secretary Elaine Chao and DHS Secretary John Kelly proposing meetings be held “as a matter of urgency” according to a spokesperson for the European Commission.  Those meetings were requested at the political and technical leave, “to jointly asses the risk and review possible common measures.”

In a statement the European Commission (EC) tells CBS News, “The United States and the European Union have a long-standing and fruitful cooperation on security, and particularly in the area of aviation security…The Commission is keen to work closely with all international partners – including the U.S. authorities – on identifying developing threats in aviation and the best ways to address them together.”

Airlines and airports would likely receive additional advance notice beyond the 96 hours given in March of the wider ban because of its “larger scale.”

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