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Europe Perfecting Airport Scanners For Liquids

September 23, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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New scanning technologies should be able to reliably detect liquid explosives at airports and allow the European Union to lift all restrictions on liquids carried by airline passengers in April 2013, according to German researchers.

Terrorists were discovered in August 2006 plotting to use liquid explosives to blow up aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, passengers in Europe and the United States have been allowed to carry liquids on board only in containers no larger than 3 fluid ounces (100 milliliters in Europe). The EU has announced plans to eliminate that rule on April 29, 2013.

“In the past, luggage screening has only identified metals and solid explosives,” said Dirk Röseling, PhD, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Pfinztal, Germany. “The screening equipment of the future will also identify liquid explosives. Initial tests at the Frankfurt Airport have already successfully been completed.”

The institute is testing screening equipment for the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). “In our safety laboratory, we can carry out the experiments under all of the safety conditions we would find in the field,” said Dr. Röseling, as quoted in an institute news release. “Either on their own or at the invitation of ECAC, the manufacturers bring their detection equipment to our lab, where they show us how to operate it and then leave. Then we begin with testing.”

In order to test machines that detect liquid explosives, you need liquid explosives. The institute makes its own, following ECAC specifications. (Let’s hope the ECAC and potential terrorists use the same recipes.) The detection equipment must not only find the liquid but also identify it as either explosive or benign.

The institute is vague as to exactly how this takes place, understandably. Some machines analyze vapors from open containers. Closed-container screening equipment uses X-rays. The latter will have to be the workhorse machines for any practical system of screening liquids. Can you imagine the security lines if every passenger had to open every container of liquids or gels in his or her carry-on luggage?

The institute presented details of its findings earlier this month at the Future Security conference in Berlin. Also understandably, those details were not released publicly.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has said nothing, publicly at least, about rescinding or modifying its own restrictions on carry-on liquids. The United States has many more airports than Europe, so it would face greater logistical challenges and expense in rolling out liquid explosive–detecting technology.

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One Response to “Europe Perfecting Airport Scanners For Liquids”

  1. How many ounces total of liquids can you bring onto the plane as carry-on luggage? on September 23rd, 2010 at 2:05 pm

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