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Czech discovery could end liquid ban on planes

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Strict security measures at airports could become a little more relaxed. Czech scientists have discovered a one-second way to identify dangerous substances that might be used on planes for the preparation of explosives. Traveller would no longer need to leave behind their drinks or perfumes when they check in.

“The Pressure of the travel industry to relax security measures made us think about ways to enable passengers to carry liquids in their hand luggage. That is why we are developing a detector,” says Jiří Bláha from RS Dynamics company which owns the research centre developing the detector.

This special device identifies a dangerous substance without having to open the bottle and take a sample. “We are currently working on making the machine very exact. The trouble lies with the different shapes of glass and plastic bottles,” Bláha says. According to him, despite the use of detector, people will still not be allowed to bring nail polish remover, peroxide and other such substances on board.

RS Dynamics has already worked on security measures with the Prague Airport, which is open to the new device. “We will welcome it, but it will not be straightaway. First, it will be necessary for the European Union to endorse the relaxation of security checks and the use of the substance detector. Then the detectors need to pass necessary certification. It will take a number of years,” says Eva Krejčí, Prague Airport spokeswoman.

The ban on substances on planes was introduced two years ago after a terrorist attempt to smuggle liquid bombs onto planes heading to the US from the UK.

There is already a number of similar detective devices around the world that are capable of identifying dangerous substances in liquids.

“Their disadvantage is the inaccuracy caused by the variety of shapes of bottles and by some specific non-dangerous substances inside them. That’s why we are working on having the most accurate data,” says Jiří Bláha from RS Dynamics.

Scientists, working on detectors abroad, have so far failed in identifying the liquids inside cans properly.

“There is a reason for the strict rules observed by a number of airports around the world. There is no reliable method to discover a dangerous substance,” Bláha says.

Relaxing the rules

Strict security measures and the ban on liquids on board was introduced in November 2006 at all airports in the EU, as well as in Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Liquids are also banned at US airports.

Passengers are not allowed more than 100ml of liquids and gels on board. Water bottles or bottles with other liquids are banned altogether. Medication and baby food of no more than 1 litre in volume has to be carried in transparent re-sealable plastic bags.

Only drinks and other items bought at the airport after the security check can be brought on the board.

The European Union is currently considering relaxing the strict rules from 2010. Special liquid detectors, which Czech scientists are involved in developing, should enable this.

Tests of new devices and technologies are taking place also in the US, Great Britain and France.

“We are confident we will be able to use this new technology at our airports in 2010,” Jens Mester, EC spokesman told AP.

Bomb in bottle of shampoo

The EU introduced the liquid ban two years ago when British police discovered plans for a series of terrorist attacks on flights from the UK to the US. Five years after the 9/11 attacks, terrorists were planning to mix chemicals they brought on board in bottles from energy drinks to create an explosive. The explosive would be activated by a camera flash. The chemicals used were triacetone and triperoxide, which are quite common but when they mix they create a substance known as TATP, called “Mother of Satan” by the terrorists.

British police also admitted the terrorists might have wanted to smuggle nitroglycerin in a shampoo bottle and activate it using an MP3 player.

Police arrested 24 terrorists on the night of 10 August 2006 in London and Birmingham. They found chemicals, electronic devices and other material necessary for producing a bomb, 400 computers, 200 mobile phones and video recordings of messages the terrorists wanted to leave behind.

Pakistani secret service helped significantly in uncovering the planned attacks since it arrested seven suspects in Pakistan on 4 August. The arrested, including one British citizen of Pakistani origins Rashid Rauf, provided important information about the terrorist plan.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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