JUST a couple of days ago a pilot was stopped by a security guard while getting ready to board his aircraft at a bustling British airport and informed he had a fork in his bag which would have to be taken away.

Sarcastically, the pilot says he "asked if the security guard would come up to the flight deck and stop me pointing the aircraft at terra firma. Also would the guard help me to decide if I should use the fork as a weapon against myself or the axe that sits beside me on the flight deck? Common sense seems to be a thing of the past."

Speak to anyone in the aviation industry today and they'll tell you the current draconian security measures at British airports - which see passengers prohibited from taking even water onboard in some instances - are "bureaucratic madness", "security lunacy", "stupid" and "absurd". They are unanimous in their fury towards the government for enforcing regulations they see as "ridiculous".

Airport and airline staff also point out that security rules are not followed uniformly and safety measures are inconsistent. Some accuse Britain of falling in line behind "US paranoia", and others say the industry is "being subjected to knee-jerk reactions" which threaten the future of global aviation.

One pilot pointed out that their bag was searched, but not their laptop carrier. They were allowed to hold onto their mobile, torch and car keys, but one pair of their glasses had to be put into the hold - they were, however, allowed to hold onto another pair of glasses.

Another staff member, just a few places behind the pilot in the security queue, wasn't allowed to keep their mobile.

The pilot pointed out that the crew were later given metal knives and forks to eat their in-flight food, adding angrily that it was "utter morons who think up this shit". Unsurprisingly, few of these aviation industry insiders will put their names to their comments.

A member of BAA - British Airports Authority - told how last week they had to bring their passport and national insurance number to Heathrow to get their BAA airport ID card renewed.

However, they'd gained access to the secure areas of Heathrow - where they needed to go to get their ID renewed - using their old, out of date ID card. They referred to the experience as "farcical".

Some pilots operating in the UK do not have any airport ID as they have yet to complete their security checks. Another member of Heathrow staff added: "Just where do they get these nut-bags from?"

A bus driver at one of Britain's airports said that coaches ferrying staff around airports were not searched after entering security zones. "That is a real security risk, " the driver said. One of the suspects arrested during the 'liquid bomb' plot raids worked at Heathrow.

"You hide something lethal on the coach, they don't find it in their search and you pick it up five minutes later.

This must be the easiest way for crew to get illegal items aboard an aircraft.

Amazingly, the department of transport regard this risk as acceptable. Once I accidentally left my mobile phone on the seat and it was still there when I returned. So much for thorough searching. The only solution is to have a different coach airside."

An air stewardess said one of her colleagues was allowed her lipstick through security, but not her eyeshadow. A member of ground crew staff said he had a metal knife, fork, spoon and Leatherman in his staff locker.

Carolyn Evans, head of flight safety at the British Airline Pilots Association, says that at BALPA's next meeting with Transec, the government's transport security arm, "we will be raising with them some of the anomalies and the lack of security training and the inconsistencies that have come out of the heightened security measures".

Among the issues that BALPA will raise with the government are "the confiscation of essential tools of the trade, such as pens, lap-tops, soft lens eyewash and mobile phones", "the impossible operating constraints of having bags in the hold when operating short-haul with a frequent change of aircraft" and "lack of access to food and drink".

Evans added that "the procedures put in place are not sustainable long term, and unless the passengers are treated more reasonably we will not have an industry left".

Despite the heavy security procedures hampering passengers and staff, the UK does not have a nationally recognised airside ID card - merely airside ID cards for each airport. Pilots and other aviation staff want a national ID system in place.

A member of staff at Manchester airport said that while passengers and crew were not allowed to take liquids through security, a shop assistant who worked in WH Smith on the other side of the security gates was able to take "several cases" of juice through. The woman didn't go to the shop but walked into baggage handling.

Staff cynicism is endemic. "The sheep are buying it, " writes one American pilot on a website used by air crew. "We've already seen Angie Airhead, the 6pm news reporter, on the scene at the airport interviewing passengers stuck in hour-long screening lines. Angie: 'How do you feel about these new security measures?' Traveller: 'If it promotes the war on terror, I'll gladly give up my tube of Pepsodent.' The only thing it promotes, moron, is tooth decay."

Air crews are also angered security staff at airports are not under the control of the police but rather work for private companies. A British airline worker said: "Airport security should be a civil service function with properly trained and educated screeners."

Ground staff - as well as not being allowed to bring food and water airside - are also prohibited from taking radios through security. "How are you supposed to keep in touch and get your flight out in reasonable time if you can't communicate, " one worker said.

Just like the workers in the aviation industry, the bosses of airline companies are outraged with the government.

Michael O'Leary, the Irish boss of Ryanair, the budget airline, issued the government with a seven-day ultimatum on Friday saying that airport security must be restored to normal levels or else he'd sue for compensation.

Just like the ordinary members of staff, O'Leary was scathing when referring to the security measures as "Keystone Cops-like", and saying that it was "insane" to take away water bottles and toothpaste from travellers.

"We are not in danger of dying at the hands of toiletries, " he said, adding that Osma bin Laden "must be rolling around the caves of Pakistan laughing".

O'Leary described as "horse manure" frightening government warnings which amounted to telling the public it was a choice between delays or death.

Ryanair bookings were 10per cent down after the recent terror threat, and the cost of the additional security to the company has been around GBP2 million so far. The people being subjected to intense security were, O'Leary said, "not terrorists and not fanatics. They are actually called holiday-makers".

O'Leary went on: "The best way to defeat terrorists and extremists is for ordinary people to continue to live their lives as normal. Because of additional security restrictions imposed by the government the shambles at airports has been anything but normal.

" The UK government successfully led the return to normality of the London Underground within two days of the July 7 terrorist attacks. It is important they now restore security at airports to normality and remove some of the nonsensical, and - from a security perspective - totally ineffective restrictions which were introduced.

"If they don't and they allow these restrictions to stay in place, then the government will have handed the extremists an enormous PR victory."

The cost to UK airlines so far has been more than GBP300 million. The no-frills airline, easyjet, has cancelled more than 500 flights. If the new restrictions remain in place, BAA says it will need 1000 more staff. Ryanair wants the government to send in the army and police next time it orders new security measures such as quadrupling the number of body searches. Virgin Atlantic also says the government should pay for extra security. The government, however, has ruled out an early return to security norms, saying it has "no intention of compromising security".

Politicians, like airline staff, are now breaking ranks and damning the government's response to the terror threats.

In the next edition of Flight Training News, Lembit Opik, the popular LibDem MP and a pilot himself, will let rip against the security hysteria. He says: "The unavoidable logic of the evertightening noose of security leads directly and quickly into a police state - What has happened is a very real compromising of our civil liberties - Risk management, not risk elimination, is the sensible approach." Airline security needs "informed decisionmaking", he goes on, adding: "Ministers are only concerned with checking everyone who gets on a plane, rather than figuring out why some people board for the wrong reasons."

OPIK called on the government to "make realistic plans with airports and airlines now, not during the next alleged plot, when the temptation for knee-jerk over-reaction is obviously greater. Long term, the solution isn't found in turning Heathrow into an overcrowded shanty town of frustrated travellers - the challenge is having proportionate responses."

Roger Wiltshire, Secretary-General of the British Air Transport Association, spoke of the lack of standardised security procedures. In Britain, a passenger can't take liquid through security, but can buy liquid (including alcohol which is flammable) airside in duty free and take that on to a flight - as long as they are not travelling to the USA.

If they are going to America, they can't take any liquid onboard - but they can take food. Bags can only be taken onboard flights in Britain if they fit precise measurements.

In Europe, no such baggage size restrictions exist. On US domestic flights there is no bag size restriction. No lighters can be taken on an aircraft, but matches are allowed. Prescribed medicines must be verified by a pharmacist at the airport, but no toiletries or cosmetics can be taken on. If a passenger is travelling to the USA, they are subjected to a secondary search at the departure gate.

"We want a consistent international standard, " said Wiltshire.

Without a standardised system, air travel will be chaotic. A passenger leaving Paris and going to New York via London would, if their hand baggage was too big, have to check-in their carry-on luggage at Heathrow if they wished to get to JFK airport. They would also have to put banned items - like shampoo and sweets - in the hold. If the stop-over time between flights was just an hour it is unlikely any passenger would make it.

Flights are also being seriously delayed as US authorities want advanced passenger information - such as name and address - sent from carriers and cleared before the flight takes off. Before the recent alleged plot, the US processed passenger information while the flight was en route. "If you compare the aviation industry to any other transport sector, we are ahead, " said Wiltshire.

"After 7-7 what happened to security on the tube? Very little. The more security that is loaded on to us, the less competitive we become. There should be appropriate security standards applied to all sectors of the transport industry."

Wiltshire added his voice to calls for the government to fund the additional security measures. "The threat is to the nation, " he said. "We are the proxy for the nation. The terrorists aren't attacking the airline; they are making a political point. The government, however, has no interest in funding the costs of additional security. It is all down to the industry, and the cost trickles down inevitably to the consumer. That's highly unfair as the consumer gets it both ways - the cost and the inconvenience." Wiltshire added he could not envisage how the security situation could get any worse.

Philip Baum, who runs the aviation security company Greenlight, edits the magazine Aviation Security International and is a former soldier in the Israeli army and head of security with TWA International, said: "After 9/11 we banned sharp objects, now it's liquid. As long as we look for the items rather than the person we will not have a security system based on commonsense."

His answer? Passenger profiling, or what he calls "positive" profiling as is used in Israel. This would see passengers - such as the young family with two kids on the way to Costa del Sol or the frequent flier business man - not being subjected to gruelling security checks. "This would reduce the size of the haystack, " Baum said. "If you had David Beckham on a flight - and you know it's David Beckham - why make him take off his shoes? It's a waste of time and money. We don't not screen these people, we still do the basic checks on them, but we have got to decide who will be subjected to thorough security checks, otherwise the industry will grind to a standstill."

Inevitably, this means that more Muslims than any other group will be subjected to the most rigorous security. Baum denies that this is racist. He points out that a number of the suspects arrested recently were white converts to Islam.

Baum believes that politicians are scared to adopt profiling because of "political correctness".

"If we extract the people who don't pose a threat, that pool of people will include many Muslims, " he added. To underscore his point that the current level of security can't be maintained, Baum said: "A drug mule can smuggle a kilo of cocaine in their body cavity.

Couldn't a bomber do the same with explosives? If that turned out to be a plot, what would we do? Internally examine every passenger?"

HEadded the current policy was creating huge queues in airports which themselves could be targeted by suicide bombers as has happened in Israel. "Our eye is off the ball, " said Baum. "We are being driven by past events, not future possibilities. We are allowing terrorists to win."

He pointed out that a form of profiling already exists when passengers disembark from a plane. Passengers leaving flights from Jamaica are routinely searched for drugs and flights from Africa are monitored closely for illegal immigrants whereas EU passengers get relatively little attention from officials and customs.

"If you can pull people aside based on nationality when they leave an aircraft, why not do it beforehand as well, " Baum asked. He also suggests changing the location at which searches are conducted in airports. Rather than everyone being screened at a central point - airport security - as now happens, Baum suggests shifting security checkpoints to the departure gate. That way a passenger going to Ibiza isn't subjected to the same intense level of scrutiny as someone flying to Islamabad.

"The central checkpoint for everyone would just make sure that they had a proper ticket to get through to airside and were who they said they were. It would cut down queues and be more responsive and intelligent. Right now, our security is clumsy and the same across the board for everyone. That can't be allowed to continue."