US officials may check travellers at UK airports

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The Independent Online

Plans which could see US security officials checking passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports were criticised last night by pilots' leaders.

The Department of Transport (DoH) refused to be drawn on the controversial proposal described by the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) as feeling like a "violation" of UK sovereignty.

A DoH spokeswoman said: "We are happy to discuss with the US and other authorities any proposal that improves airline security," but added: "We won't negotiate over the sovereignty of UK airports."

Balpa's general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said he believed the plan, reported in The Wall Street Journal, looked as though it had not been thought through or discussed with US partners, including the UK.

The US Customs chief Robert Bonner said the system would be voluntary, and told the newspaper: "Nobody has to participate in these things unless they find it in their interests to provide better security."

The scheme would essentially extend US sovereignty to the boarding gate of an international hub. US officials, working with domestic staff, would question passengers and check their documents.

The DoH spokeswoman said that the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, was in America meeting his US counterpart.