Europe’s airlines and airports have come out against European Union plans to relax the existing ban on liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs), saying the measure has not been tested enough to be effective and could cause confusion for passengers.

The LAG ban was introduced back in August 2006 after a failed U.K. terrorist plot. But effective April 29, the EU will allow travelers carrying LAGs bought at airports worldwide to travel through European airports as long as goods are put in security tamper evident bags (STEBs) and a percentage of the LAGs are screened at the European airports.

Airports Council International-Europe says a passenger traveling from Lagos, Nigeria, to Toronto via Amsterdam should be able to buy a bottle of spirits at Murtala Muhammed International Airport and carry it to Toronto without having the bottle confiscated at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

In a letter to the European Commission, Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), notes that the U.S. government has no plans to modify its terms on LAGs. “We believe that the commission should undertake all necessary steps to align the EU policy with that of the United States on LAGs,” he writes. “Without a firm commitment from the U.S. that they will adapt their emergency amendments accordingly or accept the new EU rules on liquids as an alternative measure, AEA carriers might face severe operational problems in handling U.S.-bound flights as a result of inconsistent legislation."

Mandatory Relaxation

AEA also asked the EC to provide assurances that the technology in place by April 29 is state-of-the-art. “Without assurances, AEA could not support a mandatory relaxation of the current provisions at all EU airports as of April 29,” writes Schulte-Strathaus.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acknowledged its strong partnerships with its counterparts in the EU, which cover sharing information and best practices. “We will continue to work with our counterparts to ensure the security of the international transportation network,” it said in a statement.

Mike Ambrose, director general of the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), in a letter to representatives of the European Parliament and the EC, lists three concerns with the EU plan—passenger understanding, equipment integrity and inspection aspects.

Most passengers understand the current restrictions, says Ambrose, but the new variations based on whether they are transfer or originating passengers will be difficult to communicate and could result in widespread confusion.

Ambrose notes that the technology needed for the new requirement is still under development. “Recognized experts within the air transport industry consider that equipment that might have been laboratory-tested already is not fit for the purpose, and its use will result either in high false alarm rates or a possible detection failure or both,” he warns.

Independent laboratory tests have produced false alarm rates that are unacceptably high in the Type B machine, which screens unopened bottles one at a time, says ACI-Europe. “In a live operating environment, false alarm rates should not exceed 5%,” it notes. Moreover, independent laboratory tests have also produced unacceptably high false alarm rates for Type C equipment, which can screen multiple unopened bottles, but only in special trays and with a potentially complicated operational process, it adds.

ACI-North America is unclear on whether TSA will permit LAGs in aircraft cabins flying from EU airports to the U.S., says Chris Bidwell, VP-security and facilitation.

“And if a passenger is connecting to a second airport after landing in the U.S., will TSA allow passengers to bring LAGs through security checkpoints?” Bidwell asked. “There’s a real potential for passenger confusion and frustration because the EU’s adjustment has not been coordinated around the globe. We fully support the adjustment on LAGs only if the technology has been certified to detect items of concern, is ready for prime time and is done in a coordinated manner between all countries.”

ACI-Europe notes that among the 73 countries that have implemented restrictions on LAGs, none outside Europe is lifting the ban until the screening technology is considered mature enough for deployment at airports. “Some of the EU’s major trading partners (such as the U.S.) are unlikely to accept the EU rule and will continue to enforce the ban on LAGs,” it warns. “The U.S. has spent millions of dollars over two-three years trying to develop LAGs screening technology, but has decided not to lift the ban yet.”