updated 8/13/2006 2:13:54 AM ET 2006-08-13T06:13:54

Airlines warned the British government Saturday that the country’s air travel is “grinding to a halt” because of tough new anti-terror security requirements. One airline asked for police and army reservists to help with screening.

British Airways and Ryanair canceled scores of flights from Britain to Europe and the United States and blamed airport operator BAA for not investing enough in security systems and baggage screening in the aftermath of new terrorism threats.

BAA, which owns Heathrow and Stansted airports, ordered the cancellations because its systems for screening passengers and checked-in baggage for security threats could not cope with the extra required scrutiny of passengers and their luggage in the wake of Thursday’s thwarted threat to bomb up to 10 U.S.-bound aircraft.

Budget carrier Ryanair appealed to the British government to use police and army reservists to speed up searches at overloaded airport security checkpoints.

“If the British government is serious about defeating terrorism and not allowing the terrorists to disrupt normal, everyday British life, then it must provide the additional security staffing — either police or army reserve personnel — immediately to prevent London’s main airports from grinding to a halt over the coming days,” said Michael O’Leary, chief executive officer of Ryanair.

One-third of Heathrow flights canceled
Heathrow Airport, the major hub for British Airways, canceled one-third of flights due out Saturday afternoon and night, blaming strict new security regulations. Passengers were delayed so long that many missed their flights.

Saturday night, the airport said it planned to cancel a third of its flights on Sunday, too, because of the current delays.

Ryanair, which operates most of its London services through Stansted Airport, northeast of London, said it had complied with BAA orders to cancel more than 60 flights of its Stansted flights this weekend, about 20 percent of the total, but said this overloaded security situation must be fixed by Monday.

“Ryanair and other major UK airlines cannot keep canceling flights and disrupting the travel plans of tens of thousands of British passengers and visitors solely because the BAA cannot cope with the new body-search requirements,” said O’Leary.

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