BALPA calls for "security summit" on rules of engagement after UK government unveils deployment plans UK minister rubbishes reports USA wants armed personnel on specific flights

UK pilots union BALPA is calling for a global "security summit" following a crucial meeting with the country's transport minister Alistair Darling to discuss the use of armed sky marshals on board commercial aircraft.

The move follows the cancellation of several flights to the USA in recent weeks, including British Airways' flight 223 from London to Washington DC. Pilots have been angered by the UK government's decision to announce the deployment of sky marshals on selected flights without agreement on the on-board chain of command and protocols for their use.

"We are dismayed that we have not been seriously engaged in discussions over this," says BALPA, which was last week advising its members not to operate an aircraft if they know a marshal is on board, until a formal agreement is struck with the government.

The cancellations and delays resulted from US intelligence reports identifying certain flights as being at risk of terrorist attack. The alarm bells were sounded after so-called terrorist "chatter" was picked up by the FBI and CIA, resulting in one BA223 flight being escorted by US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16s to Dulles.

Darling denies as "rubbish" UK press reports that the USA was using scare tactics to force airlines operating into its airspace to employ sky marshals on flights identified by the US intelligence agencies as being in danger. He said the cancellations were necessary because of information "leading us to the conclusion that it was the only safe thing to do". BA's two other daily Washington flights departed on time.

BALPA told Darling: "We're seeking an agreement with the government whereby if sky marshals are ever used we have a protocol - a Gold Standard - as to how they will be deployed."

Agreements are already in place with BA and Virgin Atlantic, but BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan wants a security summit "to include a far wider selection of stakeholders, including members of the travelling public and the travel industry".

Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Sweden have already come out against sky marshals. "If there is specific information about a particular flight that justifies having armed guards on board, we would consider cancelling the flight," says Portuguese civil aviation administration director Joaquim Carvalho.

Israel's El Al has used marshals for years, and its example is likely to be increasingly adopted by the rest of the industry, although they would be included only as a component of a comprehensive, layered approach to security including passenger profiling, biometrics (now applied in the USA to citizens of non-visa-waived countries) and baggage and other security checks - measures which many believe would on their own have prevented the 11 September attacks.

Source: Flight International