Proposals for a more "passenger-friendly" approach to security at airports have been outlined by the Government.

Under the plans, airports will be able to have greater flexibility in the way they screen passengers.

Announcing a consultation on aviation security, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he wanted to move away "from the current highly-prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach" at airports.

One outcome of the new security regime could mean that such measures as making passengers remove shoes will be done far more selectively.

Mr Hammond said he wanted the new regime to be one which "maintains and improves security standards but in a more efficient and passenger-friendly way".

He said: "I therefore propose that the Government should move from prescribing security processes to setting security outcomes.

"This will give airports and airlines greater flexibility to delivery high standards of security in ways that are better integrated with their day-to-day business and designed around the needs of the passenger."

Mr Hammond said the safety and security of passengers remained "of paramount importance to the Government" and he was proposing to require all airport industry operators to develop a security management system.

This would demonstrate a clear commitment to providing an overall high level of security and set out how security outcomes specified by the UK and EU would be delivered.

Mr Hammond said he was also proposing new arrangements where airports would have to regularly report to the UK authorities on their performance.

He added that he planned to introduce a system that allowed "staff to report on a confidential basis any concerns relating to aviation security".

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the pilots' union Balpa, said he hoped the new regime would help pilots.

He went on: "Pilots are part of the solution to airline security, not part of the problem. It is frankly bizarre that the professionals responsible for safely flying hundreds of passengers every day are currently treated with the same degree of suspicion as high-risk passengers.

"Pilots are routinely held up at security and, like passengers, have their water and other items confiscated. Given the responsibility they are entrusted with, that is clearly ridiculous."

The Government also announced plans that could mean reduced delays for passengers flying in and out of Heathrow airport in west London.

At present, Heathrow operates largely on a runway alternation system, whereby one runway is used for arrivals and the other for departures - with the roles reversed halfway through the day to provide respite from noise for residents living near the end of the runways.

Airport operator BAA can use both runways simultaneously for arrivals to clear major backlogs.

Today Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers said a trial of simultaneous use of the two runways for arrivals and departures in exceptional circumstances would run from November to next February, with a second trial from July to September next year, which would include the period of the London Olympics.

Mrs Villiers said: "These measures have the potential to deliver greater reliability for passengers, while reducing the impact of unscheduled night flights on local communities.

"Trialling these changes will allow their benefits and impacts to be assessed and there will be extensive engagement and consultation with local communities before any decision is taken on whether to make the changes permanent."

John Stewart, chairman of Heathrow anti-noise group Hacan, said: "We understand the need for flexibility during emergencies. The key will be the safeguards which are put in place to ensure that BAA does not abuse its new-found freedom.

"If this does turn out to be the thin end of the wedge, then residents will be up in arms."

Heathrow's security director Ian Hutcheson said the Government proposals had "the potential to bring a fundamental change to how we implement security regulations".

On the runway trials, Heathrow's acting chief operating officer Terry Morgan said: "These measures have the potential to reduce delays, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reduce unscheduled flights during the night.

"This could be good news for passengers, the environment and local residents."