• Photo: Laura Stanley

Major security changes are underway at Canadian airports, with trial runs of new screening technology set to begin in the new year.

Starting Jan. 31, 2014, Canadian airports will use new technology to screen certain types of liquids over 100 millilitres in carry-on luggage, including baby food, special dietary-required liquids and medication. If all goes well during that first phase, airports will then use the new machines to screen all liquids in carry-on bags.

Airports in Australia, the United States and European countries will also be testing the new technology.

The restrictions on bringing liquids over 100 millilitres in carry-on baggage have been blamed for causing longer lineups at airport security. While the new technology will allow travellers the freedom to carry a bottle of water or juice onto planes, it may actually cost travellers dearly, with longer delays and higher ticket prices.

“If everyone carries a bottle of water, and it takes 10 to 15 seconds to scan each one, you are delaying everyone,” says Joseph Yeremian, president of Thermodyne Engineering Ltd. and a member of Ontario Aerospace Council’s board of directors.

Yeremian says that there are ultrasound and laser machines that can be used to check liquids to ensure they are safe. “These machines are able to differentiate white wine from red, alcoholic from non-alcoholic, and explosive from regular liquid. It’s very effective.”

But only one bottle of liquid can be screened at a time, taking a few seconds to process each one.

However, Reg Whitaker, a retired professor from York University, isn’t sure these changes will actually result in delays. “Line-ups are a result of a number of factors,” he says, adding that it depends on the way the airport is set up and whether the process put in place is carried out expeditiously.

“The ultimate goal would be to have a seamless scanning system that is all in one. Passengers would simply go down a corridor and be effectively scanned for any potential threats without noticing it. But that’s still a long way off.”

Whether or not delays will occur, there will be a cost for putting this new technology into airports, and these machines don’t come cheap.

“These machines are expensive,” Yeremian says. “I don’t think every country will do it at the beginning.”

The costs of the new technology will likely be passed on to travellers, reflected in higher ticket prices.

The restrictions on liquids over 100 millilitres in carry-on luggage began shortly after a foiled 2006 plot where terrorists planned to take liquid-based explosives on airplanes. The restrictions were supposed to be temporary, until new technology could be put in place to address the problem.

“It’s a constant race between those trying to keep air travel secure and those trying to find ways of bringing it down,” Whitaker says. “I can only assume that technology has reached a point that they now feel confident enough that they can block any such attempt.”