EU Abandons Plan to End Liquids Curbs in Air Travel in 2013

The European Union abandoned a plan to force its airports to install equipment for screening liquids in carry-on bags as of next year, delaying the end of anti-terrorism curbs on drinks that travelers can take on board.

The European Commission said it would propose to scrap a provision in EU law under which the bloc’s airports must start using such scanning technology, made by companies including Smiths Group Plc, by April 2013. The commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm, recommended an indefinite delay because of the need for improvements in the equipment.

“The removal of the restrictions in April 2013, as currently envisaged in EU law, could present a considerable operational risk mainly due to the scale of the change,” the commission said in a statement today in Brussels. It will seek to amend the legislation by November, a process that requires the backing of EU governments and the European Parliament, with which the commission has already consulted.

The EU is trying to find ways to limit security hassles for airline travelers without weakening anti-terrorism protections. The bloc restricted the amount of liquid that passengers can take on board in 2006 after the U.K. uncovered an Islamic-terrorist plot to blow up U.S.-bound flights using liquid explosives carried in soft-drink bottles.

Under the EU rules, the maximum size of bottles allowed in carry-on bags is 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces), and each passenger’s liquid containers must fit in one transparent sealable bag with a volume of no more than 1 liter (1.1 quarts). The curbs cover liquids, aerosols and gels.

The EU set the April 2013 deadline in 2010, seeking to give sufficient time for more advanced screening technologies and to provide an incentive for their development. Currently, X-rays used for hand luggage have a more limited ability to detect explosives than the bigger screening equipment used for checked bags.

The EU first backtracked on the existing legislation last year, when it abandoned a plan to ease conditions for transfer passengers who have made purchases at duty-free shops in airports outside the bloc or on foreign carriers. Those travelers were supposed to have been allowed to carry on screened liquids, aerosols and gels by April 2011.

The commission said today it would seek to reintroduce the provision for transfer passengers in January 2014 while stopping short of proposing a precise date for the full removal of the limits on liquids in hand luggage.

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