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London's Heathrow Airport is splashing out on new computed tomography (CT) baggage scanners over the next three years, which could eventually eliminate the need to remove liquids and laptops from carry-on bags during security checks.
The CT scanners, similar to those used in radiology, enable security staff to produce more detailed 3D images of passengers' bags, which can be rotated on-screen and viewed at any angle.
In theory, it should lead to easier identification of explosives and other prohibited items hidden within cabin baggage, without the need to unpack items before bags are scanned.
After a successful trial, Heathrow is on-track to install the new equipment across all its terminals by 2022 with support of the UK Department for Transport.
Once fully implemented, it's expected the new technology will reduce the time required for security screening, and may eventually render plastic zip-lock bags redundant – as currently used for carrying liquids – if similar screening technology is rolled out at airports further afield.
Heathrow was the first airport in the United Kingdom to experiment with CT baggage scanners in 2017 and is currently assisting other UK airports in beginning trials of their own in the coming months.
CT cabin baggage scanners are already in use at a small number of airports within Europe and the USA, such as Amsterdam Schipol and New York JFK, but these are yet to become more widely adopted.
Heathrow's Chief Operations Officer Chris Garton shares, "this cutting-edge kit will not only keep the airport safe with the latest technology but will mean that our future passengers can keep their focus on getting on with their journeys and less time preparing for security screening."
During the £50 million (A$92 million) roll-out, passengers directed to the new machines may be asked to leave all their belongings in their bags. Other passengers will continue security screening as normal, which means removing liquids and laptops from bags before traditional X-ray scanning.
This arrangement is expected to continue for several years, until the CT scanners are more widely available across all of Heathrow's terminals and security lanes.
A similar test with CT scanning was performed at Brisbane Airport in early 2019, which also included a new type of body scanner where passengers enter an open space – rather than an enclosed structure – and stand with their hands by their sides for easy screening.