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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 04:35 GMT
Concern over air marshals plan
Still from FBI air marshal training video
The undercover officers would be armed with guns
Plans to put armed police on UK passenger flights have met with a muted response from passengers, airlines and pilots.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said on Thursday that officers had been trained as air marshals, as part of a plan to tighten aviation security after 11 September.

The news came the day after a senior Whitehall source said there was a "high probability" international terrorists would sooner or later launch an attack on the UK.

We have difficulties with the idea of having lethal weapons on board airliners

Pilots' union Balpa
But British pilots have called for more emphasis on stopping terrorists before they get on the plane.

Captain Mervyn Granshaw, chairman of the UK airline pilots' association Balpa, said: "We have difficulties with the idea of having lethal weapons on board airliners.

"We have always supported enhanced security measures, but we believe the emphasis must be on preventing potential terrorists boarding an aircraft in the first place.

"This means having effective counter measures such as passenger profiling."


Airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have also raised concerns about the prospect of guns being carried on board planes.

But pilots in the US - which re-introduced air marshals after 11 September - urged their UK counterparts not to resist the move.

Captain Dennis Breslin, an American Airlines pilot, told the BBC nine out of 10 US pilots supported air marshals.

I don't think I'd be comfortable with guns on a flight, not at all

Passenger at Edinburgh airport
"It is a security issue first and foremost... we want to make sure we can defend our aircraft against the terrorists."

The undercover marshals were ready to be used on both domestic and international flights, said officials, but they refused to say where, when or how they would be used.

An independent security expert said the marshals' guns would be made especially for use inside a plane.

"The type of weaponry and the calibre of ammunition used is designed not to penetrate the skin of the aircraft, but to actually deal with a human target," said Mike Bluestone, head of BSB Group security consultants.

Opposition MPs were concerned air marshals would merely "alarm" the public.

NATIONS USING MARSHALS
Israel
Australia
Germany
America
There was also an unenthusiastic reaction from passengers interviewed by the BBC at Edinburgh airport.

"If you fire a gun on a plane then it's goodnight. If they're there then they should be specially trained in unarmed combat," said one.

"I don't mind guns in the airport but I don't approve of guns on a flight. It's a dangerous precedent to take. I don't think I'd be comfortable with guns on a flight, not at all," said another.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Security in the air has been tightened considerably"
  Phillip Baum, Aviation Security International
"I think it's a tremendous step forward"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
 Air security
Should there be armed marshals on UK flights?

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See also:

19 Dec 02 | UK
19 Dec 02 | Politics
19 Dec 02 | Politics
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