Airline chief: 'Terror leaders laughing in their caves'

TERRORISTS are "rolling around the caves of Pakistan, laughing" at Britain's response to the terror threat, an airline boss said last night as he gave the government a seven-day deadline to relax restrictions or face legal action.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary described some of the security measures as "farcical, Keystone Kops-like and completely insane and ineffectual".

Pilots also attacked the measures, which ban them from taking toothpaste on to aircraft, and said subjecting flight crews to the same restrictions as passengers made "no sense at all".

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An estimated 800,000 passengers have been disrupted by the chaos caused by new measures, which resulted in massive queues at airports and led to the cancellations of about 1,800 flights.

Ryanair demanded the government return passenger-search requirements to pre-alert levels. It also wants the government to restore the hand-luggage allowance for passengers leaving British airports, and an assurance that military and police personnel would be released to help with airport security checks next time there is a major alert.

Mr O'Leary yesterday gave the government a seven-day deadline to make the changes or face legal action, arguing that some of the security measures had been stupid and it was "completely untenable" to expect airport staff to continue working flat-out to cope with the new regulations.

He said the delays at airports in the last few days had been "entirely preventable if the government had put in a couple of hundred police or army personnel" to help airport staff.

Banning items such as water bottles and toothpaste was "nuts" and the terrorists "must be rolling around the caves of Pakistan, laughing". He said it was "complete horse manure" to infer that passengers either faced delays or death.

Mr O'Leary said the people being subjected to intense security were "not terrorists and not fanatics ... they are actually called holidaymakers".

He went on: "The best way to defeat terrorists and extremists is for ordinary people to continue to live their lives as normal.

"We are not in danger of dying at the hands of toiletries. Normal security measures have successfully prevented any terrorist attack on any British plane in the last 25 years."

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Captain Mervyn Granshaw, of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said pilots travelling away from home for days at a time had been told they could not take into their cockpits toothpaste, contact-lens solution and other liquids and gels. "Since the extra security measures have been introduced

there have been endless practical and frustrating problems for flight crew who have to operate the aircraft," he said.

"Do officials really believe that we need to be prevented from using liquids, given that we freely load and carry many thousands of litres of volatile aviation kerosene every day? The measure is illogical and frankly bizarre."

He called for a summit meeting of airport operators, airlines, Department for Transport (DfT) officials and others.

"If we don't learn from the lessons of the past two weeks we shall be in trouble and aviation could grind to a halt for all the wrong reasons. This is not about special pleading but pilots are already responsible for hundreds of lives."

The DfT said it had "no intention of compromising security" and did not anticipate changing requirements in the next seven days.

Mr O'Leary said that although Ryanair's forward bookings were about 10 per cent down at one point during the last week, they were now back to normal. He estimated that the security crisis had cost his airline about 2 million. He said: "This is relatively small beer. We are not that concerned about getting compensation. We just want the airports back to normal. This is about preventing a bunch of lunatics from changing our lives."

Mr O'Leary said that although Ryanair had sent letters to other airlines outlining the case for compensation, his own carrier was not actively working with other airlines. He said leaders of other airlines were more "interested in knighthoods than getting airports back to normal".

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Mr O'Leary has threatening to sue the government under Section 93 of the Transport Act 2000. But Mark Franklin, head of aviation law at DLA Piper, described Ryanair's case as hollow because an airline can only claim for compensation under the 2000 Act if it meets specific criteria.

The first is that the government must have imposed the extra security measures under the Transport Act itself. But the government has stated it made last week's provisions under the Aviation Security Act, a separate piece of legislation.