Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by British Airways plc



  1.1  British Airways welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the Physical Controls at UK Ports of Entry. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 proposes radical change to current border controls. We have much practical experience in this area and wish to share this and support Government in bringing about improvements on today's control regime.

  1.2  British Airways is the UK's largest airline: our mainline scheduled route network is one of the world's most extensive, and we carried more than 37 million passengers during 1998-99. We employ more than 50,000 people in the UK, and over 10,000 elsewhere. Because of our global nature, British Airways has a particular interest in the shaping of immigration legislation and its application.


  2.1  We understand that at present the British Government is committed to the current UK system of border controls, and will therefore maintain internal border controls between the UK and other members of the European Union (EU).

  2.2  Whilst this remains the case, we believe that the interests of both the consumer and the Home Office are best served by border control procedures which allow the fastest possible flow of EU nationals arriving at UK airports. This would preferably involve not all passengers having to show their passports to an immigration officer.

  2.3  Passengers taking intra-EU flights probably consider that the relaxation of internal border controls between the EU and UK would be an attractive proposition since there would be fewer controls to negotiate. However, we believe that such an arrangement could have the opposite effect upon passengers and airport operations.

  2.4  Were internal EU borders to be relaxed, the clearance of passengers entering the EU at UK airports from elsewhere will be necessary. British Airways carries a substantial number of passengers who connect from flights outside the EU to flights within; there are serious implications for these and other passengers were our airport termini reconfigured to meet clearance procedures for those entering the EU.

  2.5  Physical arrangements at airports are complex. Changing from the present international and domestic proportions of an airport terminal to meet the demands of a new regime would cause extra cost, congestion and rigidity for all passengers. Connecting times would increase to allow for border clearance activity, meaning less efficient connections and increased end-to-end journeys. In evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities Committee (Session 1998-99), Schengen and the United Kingdom's Border Controls, the BAA estimated it would cost between £100 million and £300 million to make the necessary changes at its airports.

  2.6  Plans for the design of the proposed new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport are based on the UK remaining outside of the EU in so far as border controls are concerned. Additional costs and delays will be inevitable should the UK change its position in respect of border controls and much of this cost would doubtless be passed on to the consumer.


  3.1  The UK Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 has been long opposed by British Airways as we believe it places an unreasonable financial and practical burden on carriers.

  3.2  British Airways has invested heavily in measures to stop incorrectly documented passengers from boarding our flights to the UK. This investment includes the recruitment of operational and administrative personnel to manage Carriers' Liability issues, and costs associated with training and communication.

  3.3  However, fraud is becoming ever more sophisticated and more difficult to detect. Despite our investment, we are experiencing an increase in the number of passengers travelling to the UK without the proper documentation. All passengers are required to present a passport or other acceptable travel document before boarding our international flights to the UK, yet an increasing number of passengers arrive in the UK with forged passports or without any passport at all. In the last three years, British Airways has seen a 62 per cent increase in the number of Carriers' Liability charges relating to the above. Last year alone, we incurred charges of almost £3.5 million associated with passengers travelling fraudulently.

  3.4  The Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 requires the carrier to check the travel documents of passengers travelling to the UK. However, there is increasing pressure on airlines to reduce the number of inadequately documented arrivals by not just assessing the passenger's travel document, but by assessing the passengers themselves. We are most concerned about this, as it could leave the carrier vulnerable to charges of discrimination.

  3.5  The Immigration Service has recently posted a number of Airline Liaison Officers (ALOs) to several overseas locations. This is most welcome as the ALOs provide carriers with much needed expert assistance and support in the difficult task of checking for inadequately documented passengers. Whilst this has assisted in stemming the flow of inadequately documented arrivals, large numbers as illustrated above continue to travel to the UK.


  4.1  Nationals of at least 110 countries require a visa to enter the UK. Of these, 17 require a visa at all times, including occasions when a direct connection from one international flight to another is made at a UK airport. The remaining visa nationals may connect between flights at a UK airport without visas provided certain conditions are met; they travel under the "Transit Without Visa" or "TWOV" concession.

  4.2  Small numbers of passengers abuse this TWOV concession. They do so by purchasing tickets for itineraries which involve a transfer through London, and on arrival, instead of continuing their journey to another country, request political asylum.

  4.3  The Immigration Service has addressed TWOV abuse by imposing a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) on a number of nationals. The visa currently applies to nationals of Afghanistan, China, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Slovakia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uganda, Yugoslavia (FRY), and The Democratic Republic of Congo.

  4.4  The DATV is having a significant effect on British Airways' transfer passenger business at Heathrow and Gatwick, in which the airline has invested so heavily, and which is so vital to future competitiveness. The DATV results in many bona-fide passengers no longer travelling with British Airways by way of London. The cost and inconvenience associated with obtaining the visa deters them from doing so; instead they travel with other airlines by way of other European cities where a transit visa is not required, or where transit visa exemptions apply. We estimate our annual revenue losses are in excess of £20 million.

  4.5  British Airways acknowledges the need for a control such as the DATV. However, we believe we can recover much of our lost revenue were the Government to allow carriers to benefit from exemptions to the DATV requirement. Many European carriers benefit from such schemes, but British Airways does not.

  4.6  We have proposed a DATV exemption scheme to Home Office officials, but this has not been supported. Our scheme would provide exemptions to the visa requirement for those nationals who possess an entry visa or resident permit for a member state of the European Union, USA or Canada. It is unlikely that passengers in possession of such documents will pose a threat to UK border controls.


  5.1  British Airways supports most provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 which are associated with Flexibility and Passenger Information.

  5.2  The vast majority of passengers arriving at airports have legitimate reasons for doing so, and immigration control should operate in a way which provides them with a fast and efficient service. We, therefore, welcome the provisions within the Act concerning the granting and varying of "leave to enter" the UK. We hope the resultant procedures will improve the efficiency and service standards of the port controls.

  5.3  We note that there is a relationship between a more flexible regime at the entry control and the carrier provision of Passenger Information. Where it is lawful to do so, British Airways will provide the Immigration Service with information which is already held by the carrier. However, unless mutually agreed between the two parties, we object strongly to collecting additional data. Having to collect additional data from passengers at many airports of embarkation will create much inconvenience and delay. This will outweigh the benefits offered on arrival to the overall detriment of the travelling public.

  5.4  We believe that technological solutions are essential in handling the expected passenger volumes of tomorrow. We have experience with the INSPASS scheme in the USA where passengers clear immigration controls automatically using biometrics. At the control, a scan is taken of the passengers' hands and compared with data already held by the Immigration Service. If the data matches, the passenger is admitted to the USA. When the time is right, we wish to work with Government and develop a similar scheme in the UK. There is potential for removing a significant number of passengers from the traditional control, thus creating efficiencies and improved service for all passengers.

Government and Industry Affairs

British Airways plc

4 April 2000

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