Four countries defy US order to put sky marshals on planes

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The Independent Online

America's demand for air marshals on all transatlantic flights encountered further problems yesterday when four countries said they would not comply and a fifth said it believed sufficient precautions were already in place.

Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Portugal said they would not allow the armed guards to travel and would cancel flights if the sort of risk existed that justified having them on board. South Africa said its security measures were already sufficient.

But British pilots' representatives, who oppose armed police on board planes, agreed to sign an agreement with the Government on how the marshals would be deployed. As a result of a 90-minute meeting between pilots' leaders and Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, cabin crews are expected to be told when sky marshals are on a plane and that pilots will remain in charge.

The agreement is part of a "protocol" to be drawn up between the Government and the airline industry. The pilots also agreed to hold a "summit" with airlines to draw up an industry-wide agreement on the use of armed guards. The Government is expected to concede in the next few days that airline ground staff and stewards can also be told when a marshal is on board. But Mr Darling told MPs that for security reasons passengers would not be told.

Other countries have been more supportive of the US initiative, announced over Christmas after an increase in the nation's terror-alert status. France said specially trained agents had been flying on some French flights to the US for some time, although the scale of the programme and the number of flights involved remained a matter of discussion with the American authorities.

Airline operators in Germany and Canada said marshals had been travelling on some transatlantic flights since the 11 September attacks. Mexico, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand also offered broad support.

British Airways flight 223 to Washington, which has been cancelled twice in the past week and has suffered lengthy delays, took off from Heathrow yesterday an hour and a half late.