Tuesday, August 15, 2006

UK to make new security rules permanent

UK to make new security rules permanent

By FT Reporters

Published: August 14 2006 22:04 | Last updated: August 14 2006 22:04

Tough new restrictions coming into force on Tuesday at Britain’s busiest airports are set to become permanent, the Financial Times understands, changing the face of business travel for months and even years to come.

Ministers have told BAA, the airports operator, they do not envisage “fundamental” changes to a regime that will limit the tens of millions of passengers a year who use London’s Heathrow – the world’s busiest international airport – and other international hubs to one small cabin bag, half what they were able to take on board before last week’s terror alert.

The Department for Transport said extra restrictions would be in place for flights from the UK to the US, which account for over 40 per cent of all air travel between Europe and America.

British police on Monday extended warrants for the detention of 23 people seized in last Thursday’s anti-terrorist operation to Wednesday, as John Reid, the UK home secretary, said the terrorist threat had “not gone away” despite the downgrading on Monday of the terror threat from “critical” to “severe”.

The downgrade came after the UK, having examined further intelligence gathered during the arrests, assessed there were no other people involved in the plot that constituted an immediate threat.

The UK also found no evidence that other unrelated groups had accelerated plans for “copycat” attacks, at least imminently, officials said.

Tony Douglas, chief executive of BAA, said on Monday he did not know for how long the new airport security rules would apply, although it is thought they could last indefinitely.

The airline BA said on Monday it was seriously considering seeking compensation from BAA for costs related to the disruption at Heathrow and Gatwick, London’s second-biggest airport.

The airline is being forced to hire trucks and space in its own cargo aircraft to send baggage across Europe, after thousands of items were left at Heathrow airport rather than being flown to their destinations.

More than 500 pieces of luggage for Frankfurt failed to make it there on Sunday and were shipped out on Monday instead, and BA said many other European destinations had been affected.

Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, complained publicly at the weekend about the hold-ups in security checks, which he blames on BAA not providing adequate staff cover. But BAA, which described the situation as “the biggest security crisis in aviation history in this country”, said it was impossible to blame anybody.

The airports operator said the situation had increased the security burden by 400 per cent and pointed to the fact that Heathrow was already operating well beyond its capacity, even during normal operations.

BAA was scrambling to train staff to cope with the new security arrangements, which it said would be introduced at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Douglas Alexander, transport secretary, ruled out drafting in the armed forces to help BAA, partly on the grounds that they would have to be retrained. Officials said the operator had not requested assistance.

Reporting by Christopher Adams, Roger Blitz, Elizabeth Rigby and James Boxell in London and Richard Milne in Frankfurt

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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