April 18, 2024

Key E.U. Members Resist Letting Some Liquids Onto Airplanes

PARIS — With just two weeks remaining before the European Union is due to partly lift a nearly five-year ban on liquids in air passenger hand luggage, several member states representing a significant share of the region’s air traffic have refused to comply with an April 29 deadline, making the change effectively meaningless for millions of travelers for at least several months, according to aviation industry officials.

On Thursday, Britain announced that it would defer easing the restrictions until October, citing a “continuing high threat” at its airports, which include Heathrow, the busiest hub in Europe. The move follows formal notifications in recent weeks by France and Italy that they would ignore the target date, which was set by the European Commission two years ago.

Under the new regime, it was expected that passengers transiting through an E.U. airport from a third country would be allowed to carry liquids, aerosols and gels purchased either at an airport duty-free shop or aboard a non-E.U. airline, provided they were sealed within tamperproof bags and screened before boarding by specialized scanners. But trade groups representing duty-free vendors in Europe and Asia said Friday that they were now urging their members to plan, for now, on maintaining the status quo on sales to Europe-bound passengers.

“It is clear that as things stand, many airports in Europe will not be able to lift the restrictions as scheduled,” the European Travel Retail Council, which represents more than 500 travel retailers, said. “We cannot afford our customers to have products confiscated that are bought in good faith.”

E.U. and industry officials said a handful of other countries, including Slovenia and Bulgaria, had also indicated they would not be complying with the change on April 29, while many other members of the 27-nation bloc had yet to declare their plans. So far, Germany, Denmark and Sweden have formally confirmed their readiness to ease the restrictions at the end of the month, said the officials, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the situation.

The European Union, the United States and many other places first introduced the restrictions — which allow liquids only in amounts below 100 milliliters, or about 3 ounces — after the British authorities uncovered a plot in August 2006 to bomb U.S.-bound passenger planes using liquid explosives.

Responding to popular frustration with a policy that has forced passengers to jettison drink containers, toothpaste and even jars of marmalade before boarding planes, the E.U. transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, originally touted the phased-in easing as a way to harmonize and simplify airport security screening across Europe.

Aviation industry officials say they share Mr. Kallas’s goal of lifting the restrictions but have criticized the incremental approach as too unwieldy. Airport groups, meanwhile, have warned that current liquid-explosive detection technology is still too unreliable, potentially undermining passenger safety. Many have quietly urged Mr. Kallas to keep the full ban in place until 2013, when Brussels has vowed to eliminate all cabin restrictions on such goods.

One E.U. official involved in the discussions acknowledged that the split among member states “means that we don’t have as clear a position as had been initially envisioned.” But he confirmed the bloc’s commitment “absolutely to proceed with this small but important step toward a full lifting of the ban in 2013.”

Brian Simpson, a Socialist member of the European Parliament from Britain who heads its Transport and Tourism Committee, said he was disappointed that governments, including his own, were deferring what he described as an “essential step towards the removal of the entire ban in 2013.”

He argued that airports’ resistance to the plan was driven mainly by reluctance to invest in the new screening technology.

“This is not a question of security,” Mr. Simpson said.

Airport groups have not made a formal estimate of the number of transfer passengers who might be affected by the new regulation. But industry data show that as many as half of all transfer passengers at the region’s major hub airports are traveling to and from countries outside the European Union.

At Schiphol Amsterdam Airport, for example, 10 million passengers a year — more than 27,000 a day — are transiting from one non-E.U. country to another. At Air France’s main terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, 10,000 passengers depart each day who began their journeys outside the European Union.

The commission plans to publish a leaflet on its Web site on April 29 that will aim to provide passengers with the latest information, an E.U. official said.

Airlines said they were worried that an inconsistency across European airports was likely to anger and frustrate travelers trying to make sense of the change.

“We are concerned this will cause disruption,” said Victoria Moores, a spokeswoman for the Association of European Airlines in Brussels. “It looks like there will be plenty of exceptions, which just makes a complicated situation much more complicated.”

Having grown accustomed to keeping liquids and gels out of their carry-ons, Ms. Moores said, “people just want to know what the new script is.” If it’s unclear, she said, “they’ll stick with what they’ve been doing to be on the safe side.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d0c17fdff124b35cf65ed47d8d9613c9

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