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BA jet takes off after fresh delay

About 200 passengers were delayed Monday as BA223 sat on the tarmac.
About 200 passengers were delayed Monday as BA223 sat on the tarmac.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A BA flight that U.S. and British officials say was the target of terrorist threats has left for Washington after another delay to allow further security checks, the airline said.

Flight 223, which finally departed London's Heathrow airport Monday evening, had been delayed for 3 1/2 hours on Saturday and Sunday and was canceled on Thursday and Friday.

Last Wednesday the British Airways Boeing 747 was held on the tarmac at its arrival point for five hours after getting a U.S. fighter-jet escort to Washington's Dulles International Airport. ('Specific' threat)

Earlier Monday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told CNN that such delays were not acceptable, and that the United States and its "international aviation partners" were working to streamline the procedure.

"The delays have been much longer than anybody wants," he said. "We can't have people sitting on the tarmac for two or three hours. I think there are things we can do to improve that."

Just beneath the surface of the discussions on specific threats and cancellations is a more fundamental discussion over how to respond to such specific threats.

U.S. authorities have said that putting an armed sky marshal aboard would do the trick, but British Airways pilots and some others would prefer to ground the flight, or at least impose strict rules and guidelines for the use of marshals. (Q&A)

"We are working with the pilots' association in Great Britain and other foreign carriers," Ridge told CNN. "We hope to convince them in time that, on targeted flights, the use of well-trained air marshals adds another level of security for international travel."

William Gaillard, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association in Geneva, said his organization believes "the best line of defense is on the ground ... and once a dangerous person is on board, it's already a defeat in itself."

"We've stated very recently that we are not in favor of having firearms on board," said Gaillard. "If a government mandates it under certain conditions, we can understand that this may be done, but not on a permanent basis.

"We also want this method to be fully coordinated with the airline and the crew, and the principle, of course, is that the captain remains master on board," he said.

The dispute has resulted in the cancellations of three BA flights from London -- and their return flights -- and the delays of seven more since Wednesday.

Virgin Airways came to an agreement Wednesday that covered many of the concerns, including training, legal and financial issues and the type of weapon the marshal carries.

The accord also calls for the marshal to be introduced to the pilot and other crew members and stipulates that the flight captain remains the ultimate authority on the flight.

The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA), which also opposes armed air marshals, said Monday that its talks with British Airways pilots were making "good progress."

Jim McAuslan, the union's general secretary, said BA pilots were adamant about staying on the ground in the event of a "cause for concern" and that talks "have focused on the practical and operational implications if sky marshals are randomly deployed."

"Good progress has been made and further talks will be held," he said. "For security reasons we are unable to comment on the detail."

British and U.S. officials have said that specific intelligence has led to the cancellation of the BA flights -- the BA pilots' "cause for concern."

-- CNN's Melissa Gray, Kelli Arena and Sheila MacVicar contributed to this report.

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