Liquid Scanning

This morning I met with the Chief Executive of a company called Kromek to discuss the issue of scanners at airports. They have developed a scanner that can identify liquid explosives without opening the container. The liquid is placed in a specially designed container in the scanner, which then scans the molecular structure of the liquid and is able to identify explosives within 25 seconds.
This technology could help to resolve the problem of passengers having to dispose of their liquids before going through security.

5 responses to “Liquid Scanning

  1. I’d like to see independent confirmation that that works before we spend any money on it – we wouldn’t want another embarrasment like the nonfunctional “bomb detectors” deployed in Iraq costing their government £52million!

    • That was my thought – and also its reliability. If it has a high enough false-positive rate (and even one in a million would cause vastly more false positives than real positives) then it would be effectively useless.
      Also, 25 seconds doesn’t sound a lot, but on a flight of 200 people, that’s about one and a half hours’ extra checking.

      That said, assuming this *does* work as advertised, it’s definitely a better idea than the current ludicrous rules…

  2. Under new EU law, assuming that the technology is in place to check the liquids, transit passengers will be able to carry liquids through UK airports, and from 2012 all passengers will be able to carry them. I understand that tests have been very successful (although I haven’t actually seen the results), but trials need to be carried out to see whether it would cause disruption at the security points in airports. Unfortunately the Government seems unwilling to carry out a trial, and when I asked Lord Adonis about a possible trial during the Select Committee this afternoon, he was very non-commital.

  3. I’m intrigued and, as with all these technologies which make great claims, dubious. From the description on their site it seems they zap the bottle with x-rays then analyze the resulting absorption spectrum, compensating for the material of the container. Are bottles and cans that uniform that they can get that part right every time?

    But I think the no liquids rule is dumb anyway, so any technology which props it up has that to work against.

  4. As something of a specialist in the field of aviation security, after reading the comment above, I felt the urge to add to add knowledge to the discussion thread.

    The liquid threat first emerged with the transatlantic airliner bomb plot in 2006 and is still as potent a threat today as it was back then.

    The improvised explosive device that Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab attempted to detonate aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas Day comprised both a high explosive and a liquid chemical initiator.

    Neither substance can be detected with conventional airport screening equipment, excepting by trace detection which is used only randomly due to the impact it has on processing times.

    Gordon Brown ordered rapid deployment of whole body imaging scanners to prevent another attack of the kind seen on Christmas Day.

    Despite continued warnings to address the liquid aspect of the threat as well, he and his advisors chose to nail the Union Jack to the shaky mast of European indecision over liquid detection systems deployment at airports, and leave the safety of the travelling public to little more than the airport equivalent of a Tesco shopping bag.

    Not common knowledge here is the fact that UK airport security was successfully breached again within the past few weeks, when an investigative journalist carried doctored bottles from Amsterdam to Washington DC via London Heathrow.

    Had that investigative journalist been another suicide bomber bent on bringing an airliner out of the skies over another US city, the fact that this government decided to ignore the liquid threat would have been seen as a parsimonious dereliction of duty of the most heinous kind.

    European decision making on the liquids issue has been manipulated mercilessly by big business interest groups and has suffered from the endemic incompetence typical of any programme driven from Brussels or Strasbourg.

    Hence, roll out of very effective solutions to address the threat to the aviation system from liquid detonators/explosives has been delayed to 2011 for transit passengers and 2013 for all passengers.

    A draft European Commission document before European Legislators calls for both primary screening for liquids and secondary threat resolution.

    In other words, a means to identify a potential liquid threat during an enhanced primary bag screen, as well as a means to positively confirm that threat at the secondary screen.

    Screening of liquids at the primary level would be accomplished within the time taken currently, but where a potential threat is identified the item is referred an examined within the time taken currently to resolve other such alarms.

    It is standard practice in aviation security that, when a passenger sets of an alarm at any level, all items are thoroughly checked.

    The argument made above that this type of screening would add upwards of 90 minutes to screening is total nonsense, since only a very small subset of carry-on bags would ever be referred to a secondary screening.

    Many methods of addressing the liquid threat have emerged in recent years and I have assessed the claims of most.

    The technology identified within this blog has evolved from one of our greatest universities and is the product of exceptionally sound science.

    The hardware and software solution that our best and brightest minds have evolved, does what it says on the tin and represents British ingenuity at its best.

    Government should get firmly behind such innovators, instead of promising to support British innovation but delivering vaporware.


    Principal, Yates Consulting
    IHS Jane’s Aviation Security Analyst

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