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Airport scanner tech could put an end to 100ml liquid limit

Everyone remembers the indignity of having to toss water, shampoo, toothpaste because of some far-fetched airport security rules that flew over their head. But the days of clear plastic bags and the rush to buy “travel-sized” toiletries could be coming to an end.

According to a report in The Times, the ban on carrying liquids over 100ml on flights will be lifted with a deadline of 2024 for major UK airports to install CT security scanners.

The Register spoke to people close to the matter who confirmed work was under way with a view to abolishing the 100ml limit by that date.

As a serious long-haul transport hub connecting Europe to Africa and the Middle East, a change in UK airport policy will be a major boost to international travelers – if it can sort out its baggage chaos. Travelers to far-flung spots by way of London airports complained to The Reg that luggage had been lost for days on end, and even those transiting “airside” (e.g. from the EU to the US) currently need to undergo dual liquid checks and baggage scans as they move from terminal to terminal, with some coming close to missing their flights.

The technology currently being trialed enables baggage to be examined in three dimensions, rather than the 2D X-ray images you see when peeking over the shoulders of security personnel. This improvement apparently obviates the need to minimize the amount of liquid carried and separate electronics from the rest of a traveler’s luggage.

The new scanners are being tested at Heathrow, Gatwick, and Birmingham. The rollout of the tech at Shannon in Ireland this year “halved the time our passengers spend going through security screening,” the airport told The Times.

Now major UK airports have been told by the Department for Transport that older screening technology must be replaced by summer 2024. A formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks.

“We are slowly rolling them out,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief exec of Heathrow. “We have just started the expansion of the security area in Terminal 3 which will have more CT scanners and have a deadline of mid-2024 from the DfT. By then the normal passenger experience will be that liquids stay in bags.”

Perhaps seeking to avoid crowds of people without their vital plastic baggie, the Department for Transport emphasized in a statement this morning that: “Passengers at UK airports must not carry liquid containers larger than 100ml through security, and both liquids and electronics should be taken out of cabin bags at airport security checkpoints.”

While the source of many a security queue bust-up, far from being draconian, the liquid rule had a basis in a foiled 2006 terror plot that would have been al-Qaeda’s worst attack in the West since 9/11.

The UK’s largest surveillance operation uncovered that a number of UK-born men in touch with the terrorist organization’s leadership were planning to detonate peroxide-based liquid explosives, disguised as soft drinks, on as many as 10 passenger planes to the US over the Atlantic Ocean.

Twenty-four suspects were arrested in and around London in August 2006. Of the nine men ultimately tried on conspiracy charges, two were acquitted and seven were convicted.

The revelation sent shock waves through the commercial aviation industry. In the immediate aftermath of the plot’s defeat, cabin baggage was banned outright. As the rules were gradually relaxed, a total ban on liquid remained until November, when the 100ml limit was introduced.

What was supposed to be a temporary measure is still in place some 16 years later. ®


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