Europe: US security overboard

2010-10-27 22:06

London - European air officials accused the United States of imposing useless and overly intrusive travel security measures, calling on Wednesday for the Obama administration to re-examine policies ranging from online security checks to X-raying shoes.

British Airways' chair made the first in a wave of complaints, saying in a speech to airport operators that removing shoes and taking laptops out of bags were "completely redundant" measures demanded by the US.

He was joined less than 24 hours later by British pilots, the owner of Heathrow airport, other European airlines, and the European Union. The EU submitted formal objections to a programme that requires US-bound travellers from 35 nations to complete online security clearance before departure.

It called the system burdensome and said it could violate travellers' privacy.

The EU said the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation would process some 13 million registrations from Europeans in 2009 alone. The programme applies to Europeans who don't need visas to travel to the US.

The EU said it was "inconsistent with the often repeated commitment by the US to facilitate trans-Atlantic mobility and legitimate travel and trade in a secure environment."

British Airways chair Martin Broughton told the annual conference of the UK Airport Operators Association that measures like separate examinations of shoes and laptops appeared to be unnecessary and were inconsistently applied in different airports.

Kowtow to Americans

"America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do," Broughton said, calling on British authorities not to "kowtow to the Americans every time they wanted something done."

"We shouldn't stand for that. We should say, 'We'll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential,"' the Financial Times quoted him as saying.

BA confirmed that the report was accurate.

In Washington, the US Transportation Security Administration said it "works closely with our international partners to ensure the best possible security. We constantly review and evolve our security measures based on the latest intelligence."

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA PLC, which owns Heathrow airport, says security on trans-Atlantic travel was subject regulations by European and UK authorities and the United States, and that led to some redundancies.

"We could certainly do a better job for customers if we can rationalisze them," Matthews said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"There are some aspects which have been frustrating to everyone, but equally everyone understands we have to keep the passenger safe," Matthews said.

Less onerous

BA's rival, tic, joined in complaints about the safety regime.

"We have said for many years that new technology is urgently needed to ensure that security checks in airports are effective but quicker and less intrusive on our passengers," Virgin Atlantic said in a statement.

Alan West, the security minister in the last British government, said a multinational agreement could make the checks "much less onerous".

"We have had requirement on requirement laid on top of each other, and certainly I need to be convinced about all these various layers," West told the BBC.

"I do think it does need to be rationalised because I think we have gone too far. There are too many layers, too much inconsistency," West said.

Germany's Lufthansa was more circumspect.

"I understand what he (Broughton) is saying, and it's true that we've had more and more regulations since 9/11," said Lufthansa spokesperson Jan Baerwald.

"But I'm not going to say it is Lufthansa's opinion that it is too strict. That is not for us to say," Baerwald added.