The liquids ban could be lifted at British airports within 18 months because of new X-ray scanners which can tell the difference between explosive fluids and duty-free booze.
Three months of trials of the new tomography scanner have just ended at Manchester Airport and the first of the £1m machines will go on sale before the end of the year.
They generate extremely high resolution 3D X-ray images of passenger luggage which can be turned in all directions on screen by operators to investigate the true shape of anything suspicious.
And by measuring the density of substances, they can quickly differentiate between what is harmless and what could blow up a plane.
At the moment, hold baggage is checked by CT scanners, similar to those used on hospital patients, with rotating drums which take images from all angles but can only handle 350 bags an hour. The new RTT, developed by Surrey company Rapiscan Systems will scan up to 1,800 bags an hour.
In a deal with the airport, the company has been asking passengers to volunteer their bags to be tested by the prototype and they have scanned more than 10,000 over the last three months.
General Manager Ken Mann said: “We have taken seven years to get to this stage and we needed to try it out on real bags rather than our own dummies. The passengers have been very willing to try it out.
“We haven’t found any explosives yet – but you would be surprised what we have found in people’s luggage!”
Mann demonstrated a bag containing two identical bottles. They showed up as different colours and he explained: “That is because one is filled with acetate which is dangerous and banned and the other is filled with Grenadine.
“We should have them on sale within six months and you could see the end of the liquids ban at Britain’s major airports within 18 months.”
David Pendlebury, Manchester Airport’s security manager said: “We have been testing it with hold baggage but I would really like to see it screening hand baggage too. We have been working with the DfT and because of its capabilities, I don’t think it will be too longer before we are back to where we started before the security crisis.”
The curbs on carrying liquids came after an alleged terror plot to bring down as many as 10 planes travelling from the UK to the US was foiled in 2006.
Report by Alan Salter