A full-body scanner being trialled at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Eleven more airports across Britain, including Stansted, Luton and Liverpool, are to be required to screen passengers with new generation full-body scanners, the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has announced.
But he has ordered that a ban on flying for passengers who refuse to go through the controversial scanners should be lifted from Friday as long as they agree to undergo an alternative private hand-search.
The full-body scanners are already in use at 10 of Britain’s largest airports. Initial trials at Manchester airport since 2009 proved controversial as they produced a detailed, ghost-like image of the naked body, which was viewed by security staff.
The machines, which use x-ray technology, were scrapped a year ago because of privacy and health concerns. Some Muslim passengers refused to walk through the full-body scanners on religious grounds.
The transport secretary said the new generation of full-body scanners now being extended to Britain’s main charter flight and regional airports were based on radio-wave or millimetre wave technology, which carried no known health risks.
“All security scanners deployed now use automatic threat recognition software which means that no image of a passenger is produced, thus alleviating any residual health or privacy concerns,” said McLoughin in a written ministerial statement.
The new scanners are to be deployed at Aberdeen, Belfast City, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, Luton, Newcastle, Prestwick and Stansted airports.
The transport secretary said the full-body scanners were fully deployed after the Christmas Day airline bomb plot in 2009 and the discovery of an experimental non-metallic explosive device in Yemen in spring 2012.
He added that the devices were designed to make detection by conventional screening technology extremely difficult. He had decided to extend the use of the scanners to more British airports because of this and because, more generally, the terrorist threat level in Britain remained at “substantial”, meaning that an attack was a strong possibility.
The transport secretary acknowledged that there was a “small minority” of passengers who did not wish to go through the body scanners. He said the ban on passengers flying who refuse to go through the scanners was imposed for security and operational reasons. In part it was because offering an alternative of a “thorough hand-search” was considered to disruptive to the airport and to other passengers.
“However, experience of operating security scanners for several years has shown that the vast majority of passengers are content to be screened by a security scanner if selected. Consequently the number of passengers refusing to be scanned is very low. As a result, and having reviewed the current position, I have concluded that from tomorrow, Friday 22 November, passengers who opt out of being screened by a security scanner will be allowed a private search alternative,” said the transport secretary.
“If a passenger does not accept this alternative method, and still refuses the security scan, they will not be allowed to fly on that occasion,” he added. “This approach will allow the small minority of passengers who continue to have concerns about the use of scanners to request an alternative method of screening while maintaining high levels of security at UK airports.”