European airlines win concessions on sky marshals

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The Independent Online

The United States yesterday said it will not ban European airlines without sky marshals from its airspace, providing alternative security measures are deemed satisfactory.

Asa Hutchinson, the deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, announced the compromise following talks with European Union officials in Brussels. Mr Hutchinson said there was no "blanket policy" to prevent airlines without armed guards from entering American territory.

The Homeland Security Department announced last month that airlines would be required to place armed law enforcement officers on flights to America when a threat assessment deemed it necessary.

But Mr Hutchinson said the American authorities "would look at all measures" to determine whether any specific flight could enter its airspace. He added that alternatives to armed sky marshals could include full vetting of the passenger and crew lists. He said: "If a country develops a very comprehensive, complete and thorough system that gives a high level of confidence this is something to be considered as alternative measures."

He said the US would retain final say over which airlines could make transatlantic flights. Mr Hutchinson said: "If we believe that there is a gap in that security then we reserve the right to say that flight cannot enter our airspace."

The sky marshal issue has divided European countries into three camps: those willing to train armed guards, those willing to contemplate their use in certain circumstances and those who oppose the plan.

Sweden, Denmark and Finland said they would not use armed guards on planes, preferring to cancel flights deemed at risk. The UK and France are drawing up training programmes for sky marshals.

Meanwhile, the European Commission drew up a minimum list of articles which passengers boarding in the EU will be banned from taking on to planes. The list ranges from guns, explosives and machetes to ice skates, lacrosse sticks and cricket bats. Fireworks, bleach and radioactive material will be among goods banned from hold baggage.

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