The so-called backscatter scanners are supposed to show whether passengers are concealing dangerous items on their bodies. They are broadly similar to “naked” scanners already used in many US airports. The testing in Hamburg from September to the end of July was meant to be the prelude to a nationwide rollout.
But the German scanners had an error rate of 54 percent, according to government officials, who said that wrinkles in clothing or even perspiration caused false alarms. That meant security personnel were forced to waste an untold amount of time subsequently searching passengers by hand for no reason.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Wednesday there will be no more scanners at German airports until they can be made more reliable.
He said authorities will be taking part in development efforts in hopes of reintroducing the devices when they meet “high security standards.”
In order to go into widespread use, they need to have an error rate of well under 50 percent, according to the Interior Ministry.
More than 800,000 passengers took part in the Hamburg testing, which was prompted in large part by the 2009 arrest of a Nigerian man who tried to set off a bomb in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit airport in the United States.
Unlike scanners being used in America, which controversially show passengers’ body contours and have been called “naked” scanner due to ghost-like pictures they produce, the German ones used thermal imagery or showed a sort of stick figure on screeners’ computers.
The announcement of the end of body scanners was met with elation by the transport industry, which has long griped that they’ve created delays and are of dubious utility.
Klaus-Peter Siegloch, the president of the German Air Transport Industry Federation (BDL) said the technology could be useful in the future, but is currently too primitive.
“Passenger checks are the bottleneck at every airport,” he said.