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Britain to Put Armed Sky Marshals on Selected Flights - 2003-12-28

The British government has announced that armed, undercover sky marshals will be flying on selected flights. And in an unrelated announcement, Britain warns that a terrorist attack could be in the offing in Saudi Arabia.

A joint statement issued by the heads of Britain's Home Office and Transportation Department says the new air marshal policy has been issued after the recent heightening of the security level in the U.S..

The move has come after six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles were canceled last week due to fears of a possible terrorist attack.

Under the new British plan, the armed marshals will board selected flights and look like ordinary passengers.

It is in addition to other enhanced measures on the ground already in place at British airports.

Tony Blair's government calls it a responsible and prudent step. And the statement released Sunday says it is still safe for the public to fly.

But it will undoubtedly have some negative impact on the airline industry that has been hit over the past year by the Iraqi war and the SARS outbreak.

The British Airline Pilots Association has raised strong concerns about the marshals.

Retired airline pilot Eric Moody agrees many in the industry will not like the sky marshal option, but he hopes it will not have to become a long term part of the British airline business.

"As a passenger, I think that it would be better to put up with higher security on the ground. More profiling and these other methods, high-tech methods of assessing of whether you are a terrorist or not, should be used in conjunction perhaps initially with these men with the guns but with the object of removing them as soon as possible," he said.

Also on Sunday, in a separate announcement, Britain's Foreign Office issued a new alert stating that terrorists could be in the final stages of planning an attack in Saudi Arabia.

Britons have already been warned not to travel to the country unless it is absolutely necessary.

The warning is said to come from new intelligence. The threat is said to include the possible targeting of residential compounds there and other unspecified potential western targets.