New airport scanners will speed journeys and ease liquids ban

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AIR passengers may be allowed to carry larger bottles in handluggage if trials of sophisticated new scanners prove successful.

Security experts predict the relaxation of restrictions on liquids could be implemented within three years.

Trials of new X-ray equipment are under way at several smaller airports across Europe, including Newcastle. Travellers have been limited to carrying 100ml liquid containers through airport security since a terrorist plot in 2006, but this could be increased to 500ml.

Three Islamic extremists face life sentences after being convicted on Monday of a suicide bomb plot to blow up seven transatlantic flights, which sparked the clampdown.

The Department for Transport said the scanner trials could lead to a relaxation, but it was unable to say how long the research would last.

A spokeswoman said: "Trials of liquid scanning machines are taking place in various European locations and the UK has significant involvement in the technical aspects of this work. The timing of any easing in the current restrictions will depend on the results of these."

Kromek, a County Durham-based firm which makes the scanners, says they take up to 25 seconds to check each container, which is individually inserted in the equipment and removed rather than placed on a conveyor belt.

Chief executive Dr Arnab Basu said the machines were able to distinguish between harmless liquids and potential explosives by detecting their "spectral signatures", just as the human eye can tell different colours.

Security analyst Paul Beaver said he expected the liquids limit to be raised to 500ml.

He said: "I think there will be an easing of the restrictions since the alert state in the UK has decreased, but it is going to be in two or three years' time."

David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International magazine, said: "My view is that introducing this could take some time and even then it will be run alongside the current regime.

"This will mean it may be a while before life gets any easier for airline passengers.

"I have seen this type of scanner in practice and it could tell the difference between Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

"I am sure airports and airlines would be only too happy to see equipment introduced that would speed people through airports."