Study for the European Commission: optimising liquids screening at EU airports

The challenge

Since 31 January 2014, airports have been required to use Liquid Explosive Detection Systems (LEDS) to screen certain liquids which are presented in containers over 100ml. This is a first stage in a potential full relaxation of restrictions on the carriage of liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) in cabin baggage.

Further intended phases of relaxation have not yet been introduced, with various challenges preventing the industry from identifying the most appropriate way forward. For example, with increased experience and knowledge of the new LEDS technologies, it has become clear that no single processing solution exists that would work for all airports. Additionally, research has indicated much higher liquids carriage levels than initially expected which would create increased processing requirements for airport security checkpoints.

The European Commission wished to evaluate possible solutions which could facilitate a full or partial lifting of restrictions through a series of trials at EU airports. These trials were intended to investigate and assess existing and developing LEDS technologies, quantify performance and production capabilities and address unanswered questions from previous studies so that informed decisions could be made on the best way ahead.

o&i consulting was awarded the contract to complete this work.


Our role

In order to identify and evaluate potential solutions, o&i consulting developed, set up and managed a series of practical, evidence based investigations at five EU airports of varying sizes utilising a range of LEDS equipment (types B, C and D+).

The airports participating in the trials were Amsterdam, Budapest, Alicante, Malta and Dublin (VIP area). Without compromising security or service standards, these airport trials were designed to assess the impact of increasing the volume of liquids processed through passenger screening checkpoints.

Our consultants worked with each airport’s security team to determine the best choice of LEDS equipment, checkpoint layout and process for their operation to enable processing of high volumes of LAGs. Live operational trials temporarily permitting increased liquids carriage were conducted in controlled conditions and measured by the o&i team to assess any effects of the higher volume of liquids on the operation and compare results against business as usual. Trials took place over a period of six months; with one airport allowing the trial to continue for 4 months.

Further off-line trials were performed in conjunction with the airport teams to gain an understanding of LEDS equipment performance in situations where high numbers of passengers carried multiple LAGs of different types. This gave us the opportunity to thoroughly investigate the effect of more complex LAGs items on checkpoint operations.

In addition to the trials, an extensive passenger survey was conducted (involving every EU country) to obtain a better understanding of passenger carriage preferences if restrictions on the carriage of liquids were to be relaxed. With over 4,000 respondents from online and face-to-face surveys, we gained a deeper insight into the types and volumes of liquids passengers would intend to carry and with what frequency.

The trials and survey enabled o&i to determine the viability of changes in legislation regarding carriage of liquids for airports of different sizes and using various LEDS equipment types. We advised the European Commission on the steps that would need to be taken to enable a phased relaxation of regulation and developed a potential roadmap working towards a full lifting of existing LAGs restrictions.

o&i expertise

  • Operations assessment and observation
  • Online and face-to-face survey design and set up
  • Process design improvement
  • Industrial engineering expertise
  • Analysis and modelling
  • Operational research expertise
  • Solution assessment and design
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Reporting


Project Key Facts

Title: Study for the European Commission: optimising liquids screening at EU airports

Client: European Commission

Theme: Passenger Security Screening