Jens Flottau and Madhu Unnikrishnan | Aviation Daily

FRANKFURT and SAN FRANCISCO—The European Commission (EC) has told ACI Europe that the U.S. ban on electronic devices could shortly be extended to European airports—but the U.S. government has neither confirmed nor denied the new ban.

A decision to ban large electronic devices from aircraft cabins on flights to U.S. destinations is expected as soon as May 11, according to industry sources.

But several executives who have been informed about the upcoming changes said it is unclear whether the ban mirrors restrictions that have already been put in place for 10 airports in the Middle East; which European airports are affected; and for how long. They also said it has not been determined whether passengers are allowed to surrender their electronic devices at the gate or are forced to include them in the checked baggage at a check-in counter.

The procedure for passengers on itineraries connecting through European hubs is also not clear.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department (DHS) did not reply to requests for comments. U.S. airlines contacted for this story said they have no further information on a possible electronics ban extending to European airports.

Rumors of a possible ban extending to Europe are gaining currency, people familiar with the issue told Aviation Daily. It is unclear, however, what airports could be affected. It also remains unclear what electronic devices would be banned from cabins. The new ban could, for example, allow smartphones, e-readers and tablets to be carried onto cabins and could apply only to laptops, cameras and other large devices, sources in the U.S. said.

A new ban raises cargo-hold security and safety concerns about stowing large numbers of devices with lithium-ion batteries in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft, sources said. These issues have been raised with the U.S. government, the sources said.

Airline and airport officials said they are very concerned about major operational disruptions such a ban may cause, particularly at hub airports. Several senior industry sources questioned the effectiveness of the expanded e-ban. “Whatever the intelligence is that appears to lead to this decision, the measures do nothing to improve security,” one executive said. He also stressed that airports and airlines are “concerned about the large number of electronic devices that are to be put into the cargo hold” because of the potential for inflight fires caused by laptop batteries.

The EC, which did not comment officially, has scheduled a meeting of the Aviation Security Committee, or EU AVSEC, for May 11 to assess the situation.

“We don’t have any concrete information on the subject, but we are in permanent contact with our partners and the authorities,” Air FranceKLM stated. Lufthansa Group said it has been working on scenarios internally in case the e-ban was extended. A representative of another European airline told Aviation Daily the carrier is preparing for several different scenarios, as the U.S. government has not offered any specifics on a possible extension of the ban.

London’s Heathrow Airport, from which 17% of passenger traffic is headed to the U.S., has already started preparing for how to implement the ban. London Heathrow shared its planning with ACI Europe. Most importantly, the airport plans to introduce an additional security check for every U.S.-bound service just prior to gate access. The airport plans to use dedicated U.S. gates in order to have common security checkpoints for several gates. London Heathrow is also working on additional signage and advance customer communication to minimize the impact.

In a memo to its members, ACI Europe said, “The ambition is to get the maximum number of devices secured in hold baggage before it is checked in.” However, many financial institutions and technology companies require their employees to keep laptops in their hand luggage—causing major issues for the many business travelers commuting between London and New York.

The U.S. issued a first directive in March requiring laptops, tablets, e-readers and cameras to be put into the checked baggage on board for flights from 10 airports in eight countries. Affected airports include Abu Dhabi; Dubai; Doha, Qatar; and Istanbul.