Ryanair sues Government for £3m over 'nonsensical' security measures

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The cut-price Irish airline Ryanair has announced it will carry out its threat to sue the British Government for more than £3m over losses incurred because of "nonsensical and ineffective" security measures. Michael O'Leary, the airline's chief executive, said any money would go to charity, but the Government expressed scepticism about the validity of any legal action.

The Department for Transport (DfT) insisted there were no legal grounds for such a challenge because the legislation covering security had no provision for compensation.

Last week, Ryanair warned it would launch its legal action unless the security regime was relaxed. Mr O'Leary said the measures at airports achieved nothing, but caused long queues and frequent delays.

The claim for compensation will attempt to recover the cost of cancellations and delays between 10 and 16 August in the wake of arrests of suspects accused of plotting to bomb transatlantic flights. On Thursday, DfT officials indicated that the new security regime at airports would remain in force on an "enduring basis".

Mr O'Leary said his company had submitted a claim for compensation to the Government under Section 93 of the Transport Act 2000. "The purpose of this claim is to encourage the DfT to restore UK airport security to the effective International Air Transport Association norm, and to prevent similar breakdowns at UK airports during future security scares by putting in the necessary police and Army personnel to carry out the extra security checks whenever the Government decides to double or quadruple them again, without notice."

Proceeds from a successful claim would go to Orbis, which operates a flying eye hospital in developing countries. Mr O'Leary said: "The longer these additional, yet nonsensical and ineffective security measures remain at the UK airports, then the more UK passengers will suffer unnecessary queuing, delays and cancellations."

Ryanair said the new hand luggage regulations at airports were "nonsensical", as were the searches of families and the elderly.

If liquids and toiletries carried through security were banned, then liquids at duty-free shops should be banned as well.

Responding to Ryanair's legal challenge, a DfT spokesman said: "As we made clear last week, we continue to face a serious security threat and we will not compromise security. We do not believe that Ryanair has any legal grounds. Aviation security measures are directed under the Aviation Security Act 1982 which does not have any provisions for compensation."

US authorities revealed that more undercover armed guards have been placed on flights to and from America since 10 August. Posing as passengers, the "sky marshals" have extended their operations on US-based airlines flying between the UK and America, a Transport Security Administration official confirmed. The British Airline Pilots Association threatened to strike over the issue three years ago arguing that the "last thing you do is put guns on planes".

As the rows over security continued, the plane at the centre of a 27-hour delay which involved police being called to the aircraft as tempers flared, finally took off at 12.45pm yesterday.

Police boarded the Virgin Atlantic plane at Gatwick as frustration grew on board. The Havana-bound flight, carrying 352 passengers, had been due to leave at 9.30am on Thursday. But a series of delays caused by technical hitches and claims of poor customer service led to rising tensions on board. Passengers claimed the delays, that led to them being kept on board for seven hours without adequate food or water, unfolded like a "catalogue of errors".