Dutch sky marshals ready, KLM hesitant
6 January 2004
AMSTERDAM — The Dutch military police has reportedly had 10 officers secretly trained in Germany and Israel to serve as armed guards on planes to prevent hijackings, but airline KLM has raised doubts about the project.
The intense and expensive anti-terrorism training course was conducted in the summer of 2003 at the request of the Justice Ministry with the intention to deploy the sky marshals in civilian clothes on KLM fights, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.
But the Dutch flag carrier — which has urged the government on several occasions to deploy sky marshals — has raised doubts about the scheme. The turnaround has sparked irritation from the Justice Ministry and the nation’s military police, the Koninklijke Marechaussee.
Equipped with a firearm, the sky marshals could intervene should a terrorist move to take control of a plane. It was planned for them to travel incognito without a regular seat to ensure that passengers would not know if a sky marshal was on board.
It was hoped that the scheme would have a preventative impact on terrorist hijacking attempts. After the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, KLM asked the Dutch Cabinet to deploy sky marshals and it was hoped that the airline would attract more passengers due to the improved security.
The Justice Ministry reportedly approved the trial and the Koninklijke Marechaussee — which already plays an important role at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in maintaining aviation security — was considered the most suitable organisation to supply KLM with the armed guards.
But despite the fact first 10 sky marshals have been trained and have been ready for deployment for some time, KLM is still locked in discussions with the Justice Ministry over the use of weapons.
A KLM spokesman told Expatica that Dutch media reports claiming the airline has lost enthusiasm for the sky marshals project per se are incorrect. Instead, it has raised questions about various aspects of the scheme, he said.
The spokesman said KLM sky marshals do not always need to be armed and that they should be considered an extra security measure to bolster measures on the ground, measures that should be watertight.
Questioned whether sky marshals would be better able to prevent hijackings if armed with a firearm, the spokesman said a hijacking could also occur because there were weapons on board. Passengers might also refuse to fly if they believe weapons are on board the plane.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the association of Dutch pilots VNV, Henk de Vries, also confirmed that the Justice Ministry and KLM are locked in discussion over the firearms that would be issued to the sky marshals.
The VNV is in favour of the use of sky marshals, but is also opposed to them carrying guns on board: “Bullets can cause technical problems in the plane,” De Vries said.
De Vries, who is the captain of a KLM Boeing 737, also raised concerns that terrorists might overpower the marshal and take his or her gun. He has suggested that other weapons could also prove to be effective.
Another point of discussion between KLM and the ministry is believed to be the criteria for the use of violence by the marshal, who is legally responsible for his or her actions. A sticking point has also been who will pay for the guards.
The Justice Ministry remains tightlipped about the matter and will only confirm that everything is ready for a test of the scheme and that only the final details must be worked out with KLM.
The US demanded last week that airlines ensure that sky marshals travel on flights bound for the US. KLM is awaiting definite instructions, but the airline spokesman said there appeared to be two options, either canceling flights to the US or deploying sky marshals. Britain, meanwhile, is also considering deploying sky marshals.
The Dutch military police referred questions through to the Justice Ministry, but also said the organisation is awaiting a definite decision over the project so that staff can be informed of their future.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news