BAA, the airports group, on Wednesday unveiled a generation of security machines which it hopes will persuade ministers to ease restrictions on hand luggage.
The x-ray equipment has been installed in Heathrow’s £4.3bn Terminal 5, where six months of testing have just begun, ahead of a planned opening for commercial operations on March 27.
Heathrow is the first airport to deploy the technology, developed by the Smiths group to detect explosives and liquids in carry-on bags.
The machines will be used at all of BAA’s seven UK airports and are already in trial use at the Heathrow flight connection centre for transfer passengers.
BAA hopes their use will help convince the Department for Transport that it is safe to change the rules that are unique to the UK that restrict departing passengers at UK airports to only one piece of carry-on baggage.
Mark Bullock, BAA managing director for Heathrow, expressed confidence that Terminal 5 would transform the passenger experience.
BAA has been hit by a wave of criticism during the summer about failing service standards at Heathrow, Europe’s most congested airport.
Terminal 5 will provide capacity for handling more than 30m passengers a year, rising to 35m in 2010 when the second satellite building is commissioned. This will provide huge relief for the rest of the airport, which this year will handle an estimated 68m passengers in facilities designed for 45m.
British Airways is transferring more than 90 per cent of its operations at Heathrow to T5 and for the first time will operate largely under one roof rather than having its activities dispersed between different terminals.
BA is moving towards 80 per cent of its passengers using online check-in or self- service kiosks, when they arrive at the terminal with hold baggage being left at fast bag drop facilities.
The airline said passenger flows had been “extensively modelled to ensure there is minimal queuing at every stage.” The length of queues and the time spent queuing at check-in, security and immigration has been one of the biggest sources of aggravation for passengers using Heathrow, along with the high level of misplaced bags.
British Airways said the baggage system at T5 would be the “most advanced of any major global airport”. It promised that the levels of transfer baggage that failed to reach connecting flights would be “greatly reduced” at T5.
Heathrow currently has one of the worst records in Europe for misplaced bags.