Security restrictions on liquids and laptops in airport hand luggage could be axed in the UK within two years thanks to high-tech 3D scanners.
The government is considering rolling out the more advanced scanners by mid-2024, a source told the BBC, although a final decision has yet to be made.
The equipment, similar to CT scanners used in hospitals, provides a clearer picture of a bag’s contents.
A previous installation deadline slipped due to the pandemic.
The Times newspaper reported that ministers have been carrying out a review and an announcement is due before Christmas, with the hope it could cut down on queues in UK airports.
Passengers carrying liquid in their cabin baggage are currently restricted to containers holding no more than 100ml. These must be shown to security staff in a single, transparent, resealable plastic bag, which holds no more than a litre and measures about 20cm (8in) by 20cm.
Those limits have been in place since November 2006. Their introduction ended a ban on liquids in the cabin imposed three months earlier, when British police said they had foiled a plot to blow up as many as 10 planes using explosives hidden in drinks bottles.
But the new technology enables staff to zoom in on a bag’s contents and rotate the images for inspection.
The 3D scanners have been trialled at London Heathrow Airport, starting in 2017.
Its chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, told The Times newspaper: “We are slowly rolling them out.
“We have just started the expansion of the security area in Terminal 3 which will have more CT scanners and have a deadline of mid-2024 from the [Department for Transport]. By then the normal passenger experience will be that liquids stay in bags.”
The technology has already been in use by US airports, such as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Chicago’s O’Hare, for a number of years.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a pledge to use the scanning technology to speed up pre-boarding checks and improve security, giving UK airports a deadline of the end of 2022.
But passenger numbers were dented during the pandemic with travel restrictions in place across much of the globe.
The latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (Iata) for September show that passenger traffic levels have only reached 73% of pre-Covid levels.
Willie Walsh, director general of Iata, said: “We would welcome a decision by the UK government to roll out the new 3D hand baggage screening equipment across UK airports.
“In fact, the sooner the better – with smooth implementation supported by clear communication to passengers,” he added, saying that the technology could also help deliver savings if it meant the check-in process was easier for passengers.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “Passengers at UK airports must not carry liquid containers larger than 100ml through security, and both liquids and electronics should be taken out of cabin bags at airport security checkpoints.”