Under plans announced by prime minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, the UK will require that all major airports in the country install state-of-the-art 3D cabin baggage screening equipment by December 1, 2022. The new computed tomography (CT) scanners will enable passengers to keep liquids and electrical equipment, like laptops, in their cabin baggage while it is screened, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) said, while revealing also that “once in place, the 100 ml liquid limit may no longer apply and passengers could take liquids, like a bottle of water, through security.” The CT technology applies sophisticated algorithms to detect explosives and other threats by creating a 3-D image that can be viewed and rotated 360 degrees for a thorough analysis.
If the UK lifts, as indicated, the 100 ml limit on liquids, aerosols and gels—so called LAGs—for in-cabin luggage, the country will deviate from EU-wide rules after Brexit as well as from International Civil Aviation Organization guidelines. The current LAGs restrictions from the EU and ICAO—in effect in most countries—are that they must be in containers with a capacity not greater than 100 ml or equivalent, and placed in a transparent resealable plastic bag with a maximum capacity of 1 liter. At screening, these plastic bags should be presented apart from other carry-on items.
The 3D cabin baggage screening equipment plan is part of Johnson’s ongoing campaign to emphasize that the UK will thrive after the country leaves the bloc. “We are home to the largest aviation network in Europe, with millions of people passing through our airports every year for work, holidays and family visits,” he said. “By making journeys through UK airports easier than ever, this new equipment will help boost the vital role our airports play in securing the UK’s position as a global hub for trade, tourism, and investment.”
According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the new screening equipment will improve security, make the experience smoother for passengers, and have a positive environmental impact. “It could also mean an end to passengers having to use plastic bags,” he said.
The UK’s airports trade body, Airport Operators Association, said it is supportive of the new security equipment roll-out because it could be a “big step forward” in ensuring a smoother security screening process, though it warned of cost implications. “It is important to recognize the increasing cost of mandatory security measures like these. Each airport will have to fund the new equipment in a relatively short period of time, which will have a big impact, particularly on smaller airports,” an AOA spokesperson said.
The DfT did not specify which airports will fall under the “major” category.
While expressing support for measures that improve the passenger experience, Airports Council International Europe cautioned that the introduction of the 3D scanning technology has “quite a few implications for airports—with operational testing, procurement, space, and training, all concerns that need to be treated with realistic timelines as well,” director of media and communications Robert O’Meara said. On top of that, the financial investments that airport operators will need to make are substantial, at a time when they are already under pressure to maintain low airport charges and invest in more sustainable infrastructure and facilities, he added. “For these reasons, we hope the U.K. government will treat their 2022 deadline with some flexibility.”
Heathrow Airport has been testing the new 3D technology since 2017 in cooperation with the UK DfT. The gateway, Europe’s busiest in passenger throughput, will invest over £50 million ($61.13 million) to install the CT security equipment throughout its terminals over the next few years.
In the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) aims to have 145 3-D CT scanners deployed at various airports across the country by year-end.