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Sky marshals plan brings backlash


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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The U.S. demand that armed air marshals be stationed on some U.S.-bound flights has prompted deep concerns among British pilots and staunch opposition to the move by two other airlines.

Pilots in Britain -- unhappy with air marshals but reluctantly accepting the inevitability of their presence -- met Transport Secretary Alistair Darling Tuesday to press for an industry-wide agreement on air marshal deployment.

"We are seeking an agreement with the government whereby if sky marshals are ever used, we have a protocol -- a gold standard -- as to how they will be deployed," said Jim McAuslan, general security of the British Airline Pilots' Association.

"We are seeking an agreement along the lines of the one we already have with Virgin and which we are currently negotiating with British Airways.

McAuslan said "some progress" has been made on this and "talks will resume."

"We have urged the minister to call a security summit of all those involved in security so that we can all sit round the same table, in the same room, discussing how we should go from here."

In Britain -- where the Christmas and New Year global aviation scare has already grounded flights to Saudi Arabia and Washington -- another jet was delayed overnight because protracted security checks could not be completed in time for takeoff. (Full story)

The concerns have deepened controversy over a move Washington sees as essential to outwitting al Qaeda and other extremist groups. (Q&A)

"We have urged the minister to call a security summit of all those involved in security so that we can all sit round the same table, in the same room, discussing how we should go from here," McAuslan said.

"We would like that summit to include representatives of government, of the airlines, of BALPA and of cabin crew and ground staff, of Transec (the Department of Transport's security department), the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS, the air traffic control organization.

"We would also like to see representatives of the traveling public and of the travel industry. We look forward to the minister's decision on our request for a security summit."

Meanwhile, German-owned Thomas Cook Airlines, which flies from Britain to Orlando. Fla., and also flies through U.S. airspace to the Caribbean, ruled out using marshals in any circumstances.

"Thomas Cook Airlines has not changed its policy that if presented with a sky marshal on any of our routes, the flight would be canceled," it said in a statement.

South African Airways also said it would not for the time being meet U.S. demands. Airline officials said if they are given a terror alert they will ground a flight to the United States rather than put air marshals on their jets.

-- Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault contributed to this report.


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