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New scanners could ease liquid restrictions on planes

Hi-tech scanners which could lead to the end of flight restrictions on passengers carrying liquids could cost as little as £30,000 each, their developer said today.

Trials of the equipment developed in Britain were being carried out across Europe, leading some commentators to speculate that the strict rules - which cost the airline industry millions of pounds - could be relaxed within a year.

The X-ray technology, which detects dangerous chemicals inside bottles and cans without having to open them, was developed as a response to the plot to blow up transatlantic flights which was discovered in 2006 and led to the conviction of three al Qaida-inspired terrorists yesterday.

Dr Arnab Basu, chief executive of County Durham-based Kromek, which makes the scanners, said: "We developed this very much as a reaction to the need in the market.

"This will cost under 50,000 dollars (£30,000) and is a very cost-effective solution to the problem.

"As passengers, we all want to go back to how flying used to be, where everything was free, but as was proved yesterday (with the conviction of the bomb plotters), the bans had to be brought in.

"The conviction brings this back up the agenda, but it also highlights the tremendous amount of effort going on, not only from Kromek, but around the world to solve this problem."

Under the guidelines, passengers can only take on board 100ml of liquid, leading to unaware fliers having to discard piles of bottles of toiletries and drinks, and a decline in duty-free alcohol sales.

The Kromek scanners can differentiate between different liquids, which to the human eye look similar, by looking at their "spectral signature".

Dr Basu, 36, said: "This is completely new technology in terms of X-rays. It's like the transition from black and white to colour television.

"This is taking a big step forward.

"The product is ready and we have interest from around the world."

Plotters Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain were convicted at Woolwich Crown Court of conspiracy to murder by detonating home-made liquid bombs on airliners heading from Britain to North America.