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Aviation security

Restrictions on liquids: Nothing will change in April 2013

By Isabelle Smets | Wednesday 18 July 2012

It was set to be a special day for EU airports, but now it seems nothing will change on 29 April 2013. By that day, airports in Europe were expected to be equipped with liquid explosives detectors, and the restrictions on the carriage of liquids, aerosols and other gels - which have been in force in the EU since 2006 - were set to be lifted. However, the European Commission has decided that the lifting of restrictions will be delayed. It will now be introduced progessively from 1 January 2014 onwards. Passengers in transit in the EU - and only these passengers - will therefore be allowed to keep liquids purchased in secure zones in third-country airports (items purchased in shops located beyond security checkpoints) or on board aeroplanes, and placed in sealed bags. Regarding the general lifting of restrictions, nothing has yet been decided.

The decision still needs to be transposed into legislation, and this will be done in comitology. The Commission is due to present a plan between now and the autumn, which should then be approved by member states (by qualified majority) and by the European Parliament.

ACI Europe, the association representing Community airports,  welcomed the delays. “The trials carried out at several European airports have shown that the technology allowing for that just isn’t there yet. Further progress is needed to develop more mature and robust technology fully geared for operational reality and effectively improving the passenger experience,” said Olivier Jankovec, director-general of ACI Europe.

According to a Commission expert, the problem is not the availability of technology - 20 different types of equipment already exist - but technological defects in these equipment, which could complicate checks. For example, there would still be a significant risk of false alarms. Moreover, equipping all airports by 2013 is not realistic.

A ‘big bang’ approach, which would see all restrictions lifted at once, has therefore not been judged reasonable. Manufacturers of the detectors are working on improving their products, and airports are being progressively fitted with the devices, as well as establishing operational procedures for checks (training staff, defining procedures in case of a false alarm, etc) in order to allow for the lifting of restrictions for passengers in transit. Otherwise, the current rules - which allow passengers to carry single flasks of a maximum of 100 ml placed in a transparent bag of a maximum of one litre - will remain in force.

The United States will agree to the principle of softening restrictions for passengers in transit, even if precise measures have yet to be decided (they will be outlined in the future regulation). The Commission hopes to involve other third countries in the experiment, which represents a small-scale rehearsal for the final scenario - when all restrictions are lifted. n

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