Aviation: US laptop ban to extend to all international flights?

General John Kelly, nominee for Department of Homeland Security secretary for President-elect Donald Trump, testifies during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. The U.S. shouldn't "come close to crossing the line" on Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture, Kelly said. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he may ban laptop computers in the cabins of all international flights into and out of the U.S. amid continuing terrorist threats to bring down airplanes, but that a final decision hadn’t been made, he told Bloomberg.

“That’s really the thing that they’re obsessed with, the terrorists: the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it’s a U.S. carrier, particularly if it’s full of mostly U.S. folks,” Kelly said on “Fox News Sunday.”

A DHS spokesman said as recently as May 24 that the agency was not actively considering a laptop ban for international flights leaving the U.S. The agency, which has barred devices larger than mobile phones on flights from 10 Middle East and North African airports since March, has been in talks with European Commission officials about extending a prohibition to U.S.-bound flights from the continent, despite concerns from the European Union.

“It is a real sophisticated threat, and I’ll reserve that decision until we see where it’s going,” he said of when a final ruling might come and what it might be.

Kelly’s comments were similar to ones he made at a Senate appropriations hearing on May 25 on the DHS’s 2018 budget request.Kelly said the department’s Transportation Security Administration “might and likely will” intensify scrutiny of carry-on luggage as well, because travelers are packing more into them to avoid airlines’ bag-checking fees.

“The more you stuff in there, the less the TSA professionals that are looking at what’s in those bags through the monitors” are able to discern about bags’ contents, he said. “What we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques and procedures, if you will, in a few airports to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveler.”

At the same time, Kelly alluded to the possibility that improved bag-screening devices could soon alleviate the need for such strict procedures.

“There’s new technologies down the road, not too far down the road, that we’ll rely on,” he said.

At least four of the largest companies making such devices have said recently they are developing scanners so much better at detecting explosives than existing X-ray machines that passengers could leave laptops, other electronics and even liquids in their bags.

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