Transport Airports

How Duty-Free Booze Business Is Helping Make Air Travel Easier

May 09, 2014 9:00 am

Skift Take

Security of aviation is of the utmost priority, but so is ensuring the convenience of flying in the long term. If the economic pressure to liberalize the sale and transport of Duty-Free items has helped fund and fuel these initiatives, then we can all drink to that.

— Marisa Garcia

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David Jones  / Flickr

Gatwick duty free zone. David Jones / Flickr


Never let it be said that aviation will not go to great lengths to ensure the safety and security of passengers and their duty-free purchases.

After having to restrict the transport of liquid and gel products (LAGS), due to attempts by terrorists to disguise explosives in gel and liquid form, the EU has been working towards a goal of restoring normalcy to travel, by ensuring the free transport of liquid items purchased from Duty-Free shops within the union, and with major EU trading partners including the U.S., Canada, and Australia. The present plan to accomplish this goal by the EU is defined by their regulation (EU) No. 246/2013.

The first phase of this three-step process began this year with the introduction of of limited restrictions on the transport of Duty-Free and other Liquids and Gels (such as baby formula and certain medicines) in 2014. Duty-free items may be transported, even when transferring between airports, within 36 hours of purchase, when stored inside a sealed ICAO specification Security Tamper Evident Bag (STEB). By 2015, the lifting of restrictions will extend to liquids in a clear bottle, and by 2016 all restrictions will be lifted.

This improvement to the travel experience for millions of passengers is made possible by great advancements in the technology used to screen hand baggage, introduced by a number of suppliers of screening equipment using alternative technologies.

Rapiscan Systems, headquartered in Torrance, CA, has the Rapiscan 620DV (Dual View) system, cleared by both the ECAC, UK Department for Transport and the TSA for screening of handluggage, including Duty-Free purchases sealed in STEBs. The technology is incorporated into standard screening units, similar to those passengers will already be familiar with. It can detect liquid explosives, and other prohibited items like narcotics, via a horizontal and vertical X-ray scan.

Laser Detect Systems, Ltd. (LDS), headquartered in Israel, have developed a desktop laser-based scanner (LDS 5500D) which can be used to detect explosives and narcotics in liquid, gel or powder form, within 3-5 seconds after a scan.

Kromek Ltd., in the UK, have developed a stand-alone machine capable of scanning the bottles themselves (in anticipation of the ultimate lift on all restrictions), which can detect hazardous substances in the original containter using X-rays within 10 seconds. This machine can scan liquids regardless of clarity, color or opacity, and in standard containers, even in Tetra Pack and foil pouches as well as aluminum cans. It is being introduced in the UK, Portugal, Cyprus, Belgium, and is already in place in Finland, Germany and Australia.

Additionally, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has announced that it has developed a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology which would “provide a breakthrough for screening liquids at airport security.” This new system is a development funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, and named “MagRay” because it combines MRI with low powered X-ray to “quickly and accurately distinguish between liquids that visually appear identical.”

The key difference between existing systems and the MagRay is that the MagRay can scan at the proton level. As Michelle Espy, a Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist and MagRay Project Leader, explains:

“One of the challenges for the screening of liquids in an airport is that, while traditional X-ray based baggage scanners provide high throughput with good resolution of some threats, there is limited sensitivity and selectivity for liquid discrimination. While MRI can differentiate liquids, there are a certain class of explosives, those that are complex, homemade, or may have mixes of all kinds of stuff that are more challenging.”

After the tragic events of 9/11, and the repeated subsequent attempts to find alternate ways to bring explosives onboard aircraft, advancements in technology which help the greater majority of passengers who just want to bring baby formula, medicine, or a “souvenir” from their trip onboard are welcome.

Marisa Garcia has worked in aviation since 1994, spending 16 years on the design and manufacturing of cabin interiors and cabin safety equipment. She shares insights gained from this experience on Flight Chic and Tweets as @designerjet.

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