Minister may allow changes to UK air security checks

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The transport secretary has signalled his willingness to change the regulations on security checks at British airports.

Philip Hammond was responding to senior figures in the airline industry who had backed BA chairman Martin Broughton's attack on measures imposed by the US.

Mr Broughton said many of the checks were "completely redundant".

Mr Hammond said he would be allowing airlines to look at ways of "easing the passenger experience".

Mr Broughton had criticised the US for imposing increased checks on US-bound flights but not on its own domestic services, saying the UK should stop "kowtowing" to US security demands.

He said practices such as forcing passengers to take off their shoes should be abandoned, and questioned why laptop computers needed to be screened separately.

Responding to the BA chairman's comments, former head of policy at the US Department of Homeland Security, Stewart Baker, said practices such as taking shoes off and limiting the amount of liquids taken on board were in place on domestic flights in the US.

However Chris Yates, air security analyst at Jane's Information Group, said while a lot of measures were in place they were not applied consistently in all US airports.

Mr Baker said Mr Broughton was inferring that the UK was a 'US poodle', but that this was not the case.

"It does sound as though he was kind of venting, rather than engaged in a careful analysis. I've sort of learned that when Brits play the 'poodle card', it's more emotional than rational and it sounded like he was playing the poodle card."

Mr Hammond responded to the row by saying the government would give airport operators permission, through changing the regulations, to look at the way they carry out security procedures.

"[They can] do them differently if they believe that that can reduce the queuing and ease the passenger experience," he said.

But he said he could not order the US to relax restrictions on passengers travelling to the states.

He added: "I have to defend the right of every country to define the security requirements that it places on flights entering its airspace."

BAA, which operates six British airports including Heathrow and Glasgow, was supportive of Mr Broughton's comments.

Its chief executive, Colin Matthews, said passenger safety was paramount but admitted security checks could be better organised.

He said: "We could do a better job if we could redesign it with the end in mind and have a single coherent process.

"It would be much better, too, if passengers weren't confused by having different arrangements at both ends of the journey."

Earlier Mike Carrivick, of BAR UK, which represents more than 80 airlines, said the industry should "step back and have a look at the whole situation".

He added: "Every time there is a new security scare, an extra layer is added on to procedures.

"We need to step back and have a look at the whole situation. Standards change fairly regularly and this puts pressure on airports and airlines. We need to decide what we are trying to do and how best to do it."

The US stepped up security in January in the wake of an alleged bomb plot.

It introduced tougher screening rules, including body pat-down searches and carry-on baggage checks, for passengers arriving from 14 nations which the authorities deem to be a security risk.

Passengers from any foreign country may also be checked at random.

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