London Heathrow's new scanners keep liquids, laptops in your luggage

By Brandon Loo, June 14 2019
London Heathrow's new scanners keep liquids, laptops in your luggage

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.

A CT Scanner at Terminal 8 of New York JFK Airport
A CT Scanner at Terminal 8 of New York JFK Airport

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.

Read: Brisbane Airport security trial keeps laptops, liquids in your bag

Brandon Loo

Based in Perth, Brandon enjoys tucking into local delicacies, discovering new cocktails, and making aeroplane food look good on camera.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 104

Not sure about the new CT scanners at Schiphol. Flew recently from Amsterdam to Budapest and my wife’s various carryon items were minutely scrutinised by hand including her jewellery roll which held some non valuable travel trinkets. Perhaps the new equipment makes idle ground personnel extra curious?


22 Oct 2012

Total posts 317

That's one enormous machine compared to what is in use now, and that in itself will cause issues, with a likely reduced number of scanners per terminal.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2017

Total posts 26

However, the speed at which passengers will be processed will no doubt increase, thus leading to a requirement for less scanners. I’m pretty sure BAA would not spend nearly $100m to make the screening process slower.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1025

I'm sure they would. They installed body scanners. That in itself proves they would waste money to slow things down with something that doesn't even work.

At least these CT scanners are more likely to be useful then the pointless wastes of time, space and money that are body scanners.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

IINM, (if I'm not mistaken) I believe that Tokyo / NRT has also installed a small number of tomographic screeners which detect/analyse liquids without removal and isolation from carry-on luggage.


17 Jun 2014

Total posts 17

There’s still one at Terminal 1 Domestic in Perth as of Thursday night, but I’ve never actually seen it in use though...

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