Photo: Tomek Baginski / Unsplash

New 3D screening technology to be rolled out across major UK airports by mid-2024 is set to significantly reduce queue times at security.

 Removing liquids and electronics from carry-ons will be unnecessary as 3D images allow for a clearer on-screen inspection than conventional 2D X-ray scanners.

 Security consultant, Yotam Margalit, said: “Operators can zoom in and out and rotate the scanned 3D images, which we often describe as digitally unpacking the bag.” 

Head of checkpoint solutions at Smiths Detection – which supplies Heathrow’s security equipment – Kevin Riordan said: “From a security point of view, [the scanners] are able to make very accurate decisions about what the materials are in your bag. That’s better security, better decisions.”

X-ray scanners produce non-layered static 2D images that limit the ability to detect sophisticated threats. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The computed tomography (CT) technology could also solve notoriously long security queues at major UK airports which can last up to 35 minutes as surveyed by consumer watchdog Which?.

Birmingham, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and London Heathrow airports have received particularly low customer satisfaction when it comes to security queues.

Ranked at the top is London City Airport with an average queue time of 12 minutes.

City’s one-year trial of the 3D scanners has met with improved service efficiency and customer satisfaction. It plans to install them in all security lanes by April 2023.

Meanwhile, London Heathrow is seeing a surge in passenger traffic this year – nearly two-thirds of its pre-pandemic peak level as of last month.

To provide better service, the global travel hub plans to invest over £4 billion including spending on the high-tech scanners in the next few years.

CEO of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, recently announced the expansion of the security area in Terminal 3 which will have more CT scanners.

He said: “We have a deadline of mid-2024 from the Department for Transport. By then the normal passenger experience will be that liquids stay in bags.”

However, with the CT scanners costing around £250,000 per unit – double the cost of conventional X-ray scanners, there is doubt about the ability of cash-strapped airports to meet the deadline.

Further, despite recent reports about the possibility of the 100ml liquid rule being scrapped with the introduction of the new technology, no official statement has been made. 

The rule banning liquids over 100 ml in hand-luggage has been in place since November 2006 following a foiled terror plot where liquid explosives were disguised as soft drinks taken aboard.

 While transport ministers are still reviewing trial results from the high-tech scanners, passengers at UK airports are to follow existing restrictions on over 100 ml liquids and removal of liquids and electronics at security.