2014: Liquids back on board

2014 brings good news to air crew members and frequent flyers: new EU rules will allow duty-free shop liquids to go through airport security checkpoints, making travelling a less cumbersome experience. At first glance, the new legislation might seem to be a modest policy change with only minimal impact for passengers. Yet, in reality, it is a significant step towards a complete lifting of liquids restrictions by 2016.

Airport Security - new scannersThe new EU legislation foresees that by 31 January 2014 EU airports must screen liquids, aerosols and gels purchased as duty-free at any airport and on board any airline, provided they are sealed in the security bag at the point of purchase. This policy change basically only concerns travellers connecting on flights at an airport who e.g. carry a bottle of liquor or perfume from a duty-free shop. All other liquids will continue to be restricted as carry-on baggage by passengers, except those liquids that are in a container of 100ml or less and packed in a transparent plastic bag. This rule was introduced in 2006 after an unsuccessful terrorist plot to use liquid explosives on board a commercial aircraft.

The deliberate decision to select only a limited category of liquids - duty-free ones sealed in security bags - is a way to ensure the smooth deployment of the new technologies. The scanners that are currently being integrated into the existing security checkpoints can distinguish between safe and dangerous liquids, such as explosives. Yet, as it is usually the case for cutting edge technology, it needs to go through an evaluation period. Security officials will look at whether the scanners catch explosives efficiently without giving off false-positive alarms.

This legislative decision fits in the common discourse on establishing a risk-based airport security. Currently, pilots are screened as regular passengers, disregarding the fact that they are responsible for security on board of their aircraft. As it becomes widely accepted that aircrews and the vast majority of travellers pose little risk to aviation, a one-size-fits-all security approach is making space for new risk-based security measures. 2014 and the new liquid scanners will mark a further step towards ensuring efficient airport security.