Preparing for take-off

Last updated 1 Jun 13 @ 10:56 |
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Later this month, airports must begin to lift restrictions on liquids, aerosols and gels. Frédéric Brouiller reveals how new technology is helping them rise to the challenge


In August 2006, terrorists were intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport after attempting to blow up a series of aircraft using homemade liquid explosives in soft drink bottles. As a result, the European Commission implemented a series of new restrictions to counter the threat posed by such devices. The new regulations, designed to restrict the volume of liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) that passengers could carry on board, were billed as a temporary measure. They have meant that, over the last seven years, air passengers have been limited to carrying 100ml containers in transparent, re-sealable plastic bags, which cannot contain more than a litre in total.

Airports and the European Commission have held a number of discussions about when these restrictions should be lifted, with a deadline having previously been agreed and then postponed. Yet despite the deadline having been delayed, the latest dates to be agreed – 30 June and 1 September 2013 – are fast approaching, with no leeway set to be given to European airports as they begin the process of relaxing restrictions on LAGs.

Within this shifting timescale, the overall plan for lifting the liquid ban itself has remained largely the same. In order to ensure that the relaxing of the restrictions is a seamless experience for passengers and airports alike, there will be a phased approach, with all airports needing to demonstrate that they have measures in place to ease the restrictions gradually until they are finally removed by 2016.

The first impending deadline is 30 June. By this date, all European airports need to have submitted plans to their respective governments outlining how they intend to implement the removal of the ban. This is the key deadline in 2013; it is an opportunity for European airports to put down on paper what they are going to do and how, before the plans are submitted to the European Commission. Each airport must submit a document outlining procedures and timelines, how it is preparing for the easing of restrictions and when it intends to complete the actions by. This document must include information on what technology will be in place to ensure effective screening of any liquids; how this will be built into current security screening procedures; the effect on staff numbers and the impact on passengers at security checkpoints; and plans to mitigate any negative impact.

By 1 September, each EU member state must provide a status update and report to the European Commission on how its airports are going to phase out the LAG restrictions. While European airports will play no active role in this part of the process, having submitted their plans two months beforehand, this is the time when the plans will be set in stone. It will then become the airports’ responsibility to ensure that they adhere to the procedures and processes they originally outlined in their plans.

This all needs to be done ahead of 31 January 2014, when phase one of the implementation process will begin. This first phase will allow passengers transferring through or departing from European airports to carry duty-free LAGs bought in non-European countries up to 36 hours previously, as long as they are held in tamper-evident bags approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Passengers will also be allowed to travel with medicines and baby food required during the flight. It is not expected that this first phase will have a significant impact on airport operations, and most passengers will not see a great deal of change. The only discernible difference will be that airports will have dedicated equipment for the screening of LAGs in tamper-evident bags to enable passengers transferring at EU airports to keep their duty free.

Back in 2006, restrictions on LAGs were initially envisaged as a temporary measure that was to be lifted when technology to screen liquids for explosives became readily available. For the past few years, manufacturers of security screening equipment, the European Commission and governments across Europe have been manufacturing, recommending and deploying technology to meet the requirements specified. Previous deadlines were extended as it was felt that the technology was not advanced or readily available enough to meet the criteria for the safe easing of the ban. It is now felt, however, that the right technology is available, and therefore there is no reason not to proceed with the plans.

The security systems have been grouped into four categories by the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), A to D. Equipment under categories A, B and C has already been approved and is available for deployment. All the systems have been designed with the same ultimate goal of allowing airport security to return to screening as it was prior to the liquid ban. The categories are as follows: (A) Dip strip type detection; (B) Individual bottle scanners; (C) Automatic classification of multiple LAG containers outside of bags; (D) Automated detection and classification of multiple LAG containers inside bags.

The unavailability of category D equipment has so far focused efforts on category C equipment for primary screening at medium to large airports, with at least one additional equipment type for secondary alarm resolution. Currently, with type C equipment, passengers are required to present their liquids for screening, which makes the process for scanning them for prohibitive substances easier and takes away much of the effort associated with identifying offending items. With advanced cabin X-ray security systems already in place at some airports, it may be possible simply to upgrade existing systems. For those airports looking to invest in new technology, the ECAC has certified a number of technologies, such as the Rapiscan 620DV (Dual-View) advanced baggage scanner, and liquid explosive detection systems (LEDSs) that are compliant with the specifications outlined by the European Commission.

Despite much to-ing and fro-ing, the technology is now available and therefore there is no reason why airports cannot meet the looming deadlines. Because of the lack of clarity in the past, however, many airports are finding themselves in a race against time to prepare their plans and ensure they have the technology in place. Moreover, each European country seems to be in a different stage of the cycle, with some airports in the UK having already looked at – and in some cases deployed – the required technology, while in France they are only just looking at the equipment and making the recommendations.

One of the reasons for this difference in status is that it was not clear for a period of time what the final regulations would entail. Manufacturers and airports wanted to ensure that the regulations were not likely to change before they began the process of implementation, as the amount of investment required to develop the solutions is huge. With the latest technology now readily available, it will be possible for airports to meet the requirements for the relaxation of controls on LAGs without significantly affecting the passenger experience, ensuring a smooth transition for both parties until the full lifting of the ban in 2016.


Frédéric Brouiller is vice president of sales for Europe, the Middle East and Asia at Rapiscan Systems. He has also worked for Fabricom Airport Systems and L3 Communications. In his current position, he works closely with the aviation industry to install advanced security screening solutions