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Liquid limits will stay in place

Officials had hoped to ease airplane restrictions by fall

Thomas Frank USA Today

WASHINGTON – Airline passengers in the U.S. won’t be saying goodbye anytime soon to one of the thorniest hassles in air travel: restrictions on the amount of liquids that can be carried on a plane.

Government and security officials say the ban is still likely to be lifted someday – but not as quickly as they once thought.

Three British men were convicted in London on Monday of plotting to murder thousands in 2006 by downing at least seven trans-Atlantic airliners using liquid explosives hidden in soda bottles. The men planned to assemble bombs in airplane toilets using hydrogen-peroxide-based explosives injected into bottles.

Security rules adopted in 2006 after the liquid-bomb plot was foiled limit passengers to 3-ounce containers, which must fit in a 1-quart bag. A year ago, then-Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley predicted passengers would be able to carry large liquid containers through checkpoints by this fall. TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said Tuesday that Hawley’s timetable won’t be met but that easing liquid restrictions “remains a priority.”

The obstacles involve technology and developing software that can be added to checkpoint X-ray machines so they can spot explosives.

The TSA has taken a major step by installing 875 high-tech X-ray machines in 78 airports that can handle the software addition. Hundreds more of the machines must be installed at the other 370 commercial airports, a process that will take at least another year, Payne said.

Aviation security consultant Rich Roth said the software “is not working as well as they had expected” because it sounds false alarms on too many liquids that turn out to be harmless.

Hasbrouck Miller, vice president of X-ray maker Smiths Detection, said he is “quite optimistic” that the technology will allow restrictions to be eased.

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