An emergency ban on freight from Yemen and Somalia was put into force last night – and new restrictions placed on passenger hand luggage – after the foiled cargo plane terror plot.
A full review of cargo security was also launched by the Government, with a meeting of major industry figures called for later in the week to discuss how to improve weaknesses in detecting threats planted in cargo packages.
Two cabinet ministers will face tough questions about cargo scanning on both passenger and non-passenger flights. The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, will be asked by a panel of MPs in two weeks' time about apparent shortcomings in scanning. And the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, will write to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to clarify what progress has been made in speeding up the delivery of crucial scanning equipment. An inquiry earlier this year found that sophisticated, US-style detectors for trace explosives had been slow in arriving at British airports.
Printer toner cartridges larger than 500g were banned from hand luggage on flights from Britain from midnight. The clampdown comes days after airline chiefs called for security measures to be relaxed for passengers. The cartridges were also banned from cargo flights, unless sent by a trusted shipper already approved by the Government. Both measures will be in place for a month while "a long-term security regime" is drawn up to counter the new threat. Ms May said the ban on unaccompanied freight from Somalia was necessary amid fears that contact had been made between al-Qa'ida in Yemen and terrorist groups in Somalia.
In theory, all cargo on passenger planes is scanned. However, both US and UK security officials believe current technology is not capable of picking up the new types of explosives used, while there are also problems in scanning all cargo stored on passenger flights. The PETN explosive favoured by al-Qa'ida is odourless and colourless.
Downing Street also revealed that the police who found one of the devices on a plane at East Midlands airport failed to inform either the Prime Minster or Mrs May about the threat until hours after their discovery. "These were decisions taken by the local police force," the Prime Minister's spokesman said. "They were the people on the ground."
Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, warned the authorities against over-reacting in the wake of the plot, saying he feared a new raft of "ludicrous" airport security measures that would cause disruption for passengers.
"What happens, particularly in the coverage of the Yemeni issues of recent days is that we have another huge lurch by the 'securicrats' into making travel even more uncomfortable and an even more tedious ordeal for the public," he said.
Printer cartridges banned
* Printer cartridges heavier than 500g (17.6oz) have been banned from hand luggage under the Government's emergency measures, which came into effect at midnight last night. Both devices discovered on cargo flights over the weekend had their payloads of pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) – a powerful and odourless explosive – encased within the toner cartridges. One contained 300g of the material, while the other stored 400g.