Concern over the risk of battery fires in the cargo holds of aircraft has been raised after US and UK authorities banned certain electronic items from passenger cabins.

The European Aviation Safety Agency, which is responsible for safe flying in 32 countries, said personal electronic devices (PED) carried a fire risk due to their lithium batteries and should preferably be carried inside passenger cabins so that any problems could be identified and dealt with.

The European agency warned in a bulletin: “When the carriage of PEDs in the cabin is not allowed, it leads to a significant increase of the number of PEDs in the cargo compartment.

“Certain precautions should therefore be observed to mitigate the risk of accidental fire in the cargo hold.”

Computers in checked baggage must be completely switched off and “well protected from accidental activation,” it added.

The Cologne-based agency issued its guidance two weeks after the US and UK banned gadgets larger than smartphones from passenger cabins on flights from certain mainly Muslim countries because of security concerns, Reuters reported.

The British ban covers airports in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia. The US ban extends to Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.

Iata has already criticised the new rules as inconsistent or ineffective.

The US Transportation Safety Administration said it had “co-ordinated closely with the FAA” [Federal Aviation Administration] on the logistics of the ban and that the agency had provided information to airlines regarding appropriate handling of electronics and lithium batteries.