Air travellers in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Europe may soon be able to bring larger bottles of water and other liquids through airport security again, thanks to high-tech screening methods that will be able to chemically identify liquid explosives.
Since 2006, passengers have not been allowed to bring containers of liquids, gels or aerosols larger than 100 millilitres through security at airports in Canada and around the world.
But as of Jan. 31, 2014, Canada, the U.S., Australia, and the European Union will be implementing new high-tech screening methods “with a view to progressively relax” restrictions on liquids carried by air passengers.
The countries outlined their plan to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations agency that regulates aviation safety, security and efficiency, in a working paper presented this past Aug. 19.
In a statement Wednesday, Transport Canada confirmed that “Canada, the U.S., Australia and the European Union are working with screening authorities, airlines and airports to screen a limited amount of liquids to determine to what extent the restrictions can be lifted.”
It added, “In no way will we implement changes that could cause a safety risk to Canadian air travellers.”
Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said banning all liquids from carry-on bags was always a temporary measure in response to the threat of terrorism.
Technology has now caught up and airports can better screen liquid items to see if they pose a threat, she said.
"The paper indicates technology is now in the place where we can start doing trial runs with it," Raitt said Wednesday at a meeting of transportation ministers in Winnipeg.
Airports are to start loosening the rules on select items in January, Raitt said.
The Aug. 19 paper says once the new technology is installed, larger quantities of liquids, aerosols and gels will be screened and then allowed through security if they are cleared by the screening.
Initially, the only liquids to be screened and allowed will be:
- Those packed in special security tamper-evident bags purchased from airport duty-free shops anywhere in the world. Currently, only tamper-evident bags from Europe are screened and accepted.
- Products such as baby food that are used to meet “special dietary requirements” or medical needs. Baby food, formula and milk are already exempted from the 100-millilitre limit.
The security restrictions on liquids, which were intended to be temporary, were put in place following the discovery of a foiled extremist plot in 2006 that involved disguising liquid explosives as beverages, carrying them on board a plane, and setting them off on flights between the U.K. and North America.
The paper noted that the restrictions are an inconvenience to travellers, airlines, airports and retailers. It added that the measures “were intended to be temporary until they could be replaced by a technological solution” and “a technological solution now exists.”
Among the companies providing such a technological solution is Quebec City-based Optosecurity Inc. It makes a system that attaches to existing X-ray machines and uses software to automatically detect and flag liquid explosives and “other liquid threats.”
The company told CBC News its market so far is mostly in Europe, but it would be very happy if North America were to change its airport screening rules and open up a new market.