Air marshals set to deploy
By Phil Mercer in Sydney
A squad of undercover air marshals has completed training and is ready for deployment on Australia's airlines.
The sky guards will be armed. The authorities won't say what sort of weapons they will have but it is thought they will be issued with low velocity firearms using ammunition that will not penetrate the fuselage of an aircraft.
The Australian Government has put the country on a higher state of alert this Christmas after receiving what it says is new but as yet unsubstantiated information about terrorist threats.
"They will be randomly placed and you won't be able to tell by looking at a person that yes, this is a security officer. They will look like an ordinary member of the public," he said.
The scheme to protect Australia's air passengers will cost up to $30m (US$15m). It is unclear who will pay for it.
Both the Federal government and the airlines are insisting it is the other's responsibility. If the airlines are forced to foot the bill, the costs will be passed onto passengers, with every journey costing $1 extra.
Eventually the Australian Government plans to have more than 100 marshals on both domestic and international flights.
In a further move to reinforce in-flight security, Qantas has been given the go-ahead to strengthen the cockpit doors on its fleet.
In America, air marshals have been deployed since the 1970s. The US programme provides a covert, armed security force capable of carrying out anti-hijacking operations.
For many years, El Al, the Israeli airline, was the only carrier to have armed guards on all its flights as a matter of routine.