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Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Foiled UK terror plot casts cloud on airline industry

AFP , PARIS

The global airline industry can recover from the turbulence of a foiled terror plot in Britain last week, but it is not clear skies ahead as the sector faces higher security costs and passengers face even more hassle, analysts said.

Airport security will need new technology after British authorities on Thursday uncovered an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic flights between Britain and the US using liquid explosives smuggled onto planes in hand luggage.

"Unfortunately, the risk of terrorist attacks has joined recessions and fuel price volatility as an ongoing industry risk factor for airlines, particularly those in the US and Western Europe," said Philip Baggaley, airlines analyst at Standard and Poor's.

And demand may drop if airline travelers get too discouraged by stricter security rules. The US and other countries have banned all liquids from being taken into the plane's cabin, while Britain has barred all hand luggage -- meaning no handbags, laptops, mobile phones or MP3 players -- except for travel documents and medications carried in see-through bags.

"The security checks for trans-Atlantic travel have become draconian," said Jean-Claude Baum-garten, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, adding that travelers will face "even greater delays in checking-in" for flights.

"The constraints will be particularly hard for the legions of businessmen who take planes every day, and keep their briefcases with them so they won't get lost and they can quickly leave the airport" upon arrival at their destination, Baumgarten said.

A troublesome sign of the new hassles was evident at London's Heathrow Airport on Saturday, where the British Airports Authority canceled a third of departing flights from mid-afternoon, blaming the pressure of additional security checks.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh criticized the operator for failing to meet the challenge, saying: "The airport's baggage system cannot process all of the passengers' bags and where passengers have been able to check their bags in, the lengthy queues in the airport security search area means that passengers are unable to get to the departure gate in time for their flight."

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said authorities were working on refining the security measures "in order to somewhat reduce any additional inconvenience."

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