EU tells UK to relax liquids on planes ban

BRITISH airports face disastrous consequences if they fail to agree to the lifting of a ban on carrying liquids onto aeroplanes, the EU has warned.

The warning comes after Philip Hammond (pictured), the transport secretary, refused to go ahead with the first phase of relaxing liquids restrictions, which is due this week.

From 29 April, passengers on long-haul flights from outside the EU would have been able to take duty-free liquids as hand luggage on connecting flights at UK airports. But Hammond has told airport owners that restrictions will not be lifted, citing ongoing security concerns.

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, said all countries must meet the agreed April 2013 deadline for lifting the ban in full, warning: “If some countries lift the ban and some do not it will be disastrous.”

Airport operators are worried that anything other than a simultaneous lifting of the ban will cause delays when passengers travel from a country that allows them to take liquids on board to one that doesn’t.

The UK’s move means that travellers connecting at Heathrow will have liquid duty free purchases confiscated, while those passing through other EU jurisdictions will not.

The rules were introduced in Europe in August 2006 after UK police uncovered a terrorist plot to use bombs made from liquid explosives mixed during a flight.

The regulations prevent passengers carrying fluids onto planes unless they are in individual containers of no more than 100ml. Over 2,000 tonnes of liquids are confiscated at Heathrow alone each year.

Although scanning technology for suspicious liquids is not yet in place, the Department for Transport said it still intended to lift the restrictions by 2013.

TIME LINE | HAND LUGGAGE SECURITY
9 August 2006
A terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives on board several flights to North America is disrupted when UK police officers arrest 21 suspects.

10 August 2006
An overnight emergency ban on liquids in hand luggage is imposed by then Home Secretary John Reid. The ban is relaxed over subsequent weeks to allow passengers to carry fluids, but only in individual containers of 100ml or less.

October 2009
The EU admits that progress towards developing scanning technology capable of detecting dangerous fluids is “much slower than anticipated”. It is forced to push back its initial target of April 2010.

October 2010
British Airways chairman Martin Broughton launches an attack on US-led security regulations, saying: “There’s quite a number of elements of the security programme which are completely redundant and they should be sorted out.”

December 2010
Transport secretary Philip Hammond tells a Transport Select Committee: “In some cases more searches than are necessary are being carried out. Different approaches using technology could eliminate risk,”he said, adding: “I am not suggesting we relax the standards we require, I am suggesting more flexibility.”

12 April 2011
Hammond tells airport owners the planned first phase of the lifting of liquids restrictions across the EU will no longer go ahead in the UK due to security concerns. He said he was still committed to the complete lifting of the ban by April 2013 alongside improvements to screening technology.