- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

LONDON (AP) — British Airways met with pilots yesterday to discuss their objections to the use of armed sky marshals on flights to the United States. As they met, a British Airways flight to Washington was delayed for the third straight day because of U.S.-requested security checks.

The British Association of Air Line Pilots said deploying armed officers on aircraft is likely to endanger lives, and one British charter operator, Thomas Cook Airlines, said it would cancel flights if sky marshals were to be on board.

Like the association, “we want to see captains remain in full control of the aircraft at all times,” said a spokesman for the airline, which operates vacation flights to Florida and crosses U.S. airspace en route to the Caribbean.

The pilots association has said it may be willing to accept sky marshals and cockpit restrictions under protest, but it was seeking assurances, including legal and financial indemnity, in case of shootouts.

The association also wants measures saying that pilots will be in command at all times and will know the identities and seating locations of sky marshals.

A spokesman for British Airways, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that “in principle, where appropriate, with agreed procedures in place, we’d be comfortable” with armed sky marshals on aircraft.

U.S. officials have sought to get armed sky marshals deployed on some flights.

British Transportation Minister Alistair Darling, who was to meet with representatives of the pilots association today to discuss the issue, dismissed as “complete rubbish” a suggestion that London-to-Washington flights had been canceled to pressure British Airways into accepting sky marshals.

British Airways Flight BA223 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport was delayed yesterday at the request of U.S. officials.

About 200 passengers sat in the aircraft on the tarmac for more than three hours while the airline awaited clearance from U.S. authorities.

The daily Flight BA223 — one of three that the airline operates each day to Washington — also was canceled Thursday and Friday on government advice and was held up for U.S.-requested checks for three hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Mr. Darling said “exceptional circumstances” relating to security had forced the cancellation of the flights and that most flights were proceeding as usual. Neither the airline nor British officials would provide details of the threat.

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