Industry stakeholders argue that a fragmented European security market is preventing the 27-country bloc from keeping up with the US on security standards and new technologies.
At a debate hosted by the security and defence NGO, SDA, security manufacturers, buyers, airport administrations and technical experts argued that this fragmentation stemmed wholly from "vague" and "insufficient" EU regulation on the standards of airport security across the bloc.
Unlike the industry's more typical dislike of regulation, security experts and manufacturers argued that a lack of certification and standardisation of airport security equipment keeps safety below par.
"There is no way of comparing machines," complained Jacques Cipriano, an aviation expert and head of regulation at Safran, a leading French security company.
The European Commission appears to agree that industrial policy for security and defence has been too slow to come.
At the event Reinhard Priebe, director for internal security at the EU executive, agreed with his counterparts at airports and manufacturers that a lack of standardisation was hampering developments in airport security.
Meanwhile, Cipriano compared the situation to the US, which has dedicated an entire civil service, the Transport Security Administration (TSA), to the procurement and development of security technology.
In Europe, there is no equivalent pan-European body and stakeholders criticise the European Commission for not employing scientists and engineers to formulate policy that is globally acceptable.
Going for cheap equipment
An industry source who wished to remain anonymous said airports continue to buy the cheapest technologies because EU regulation on aviation security allows it.
"As long as they comply with a vague regulation, why should they buy expensive equipment," the source complained.
"The regulation says something like: 'the sensitivity of the equipment can be adjusted according to the local level of threat,' which is nonsense. What does that mean?" a second source, who also wished to remain unidentified, added.
Security experts at the event were keen to talk about the latest technologies which have not yet gained a market foothold. Many complained that these are being bought up by US companies, which continue to have a stranglehold on the market.
"It's a fact that almost every piece of security equipment in the EU today owes its existence to US funding," Kevin Riordan, technical director at the UK's Smiths agency for airport security, said in a speech at the event.
The US is reportedly ahead in a pseudo-arms race with the EU on X-ray diffraction, a technology which identifies what kind of molecules are in a given container.
The technology is being developed in European laboratories and bought by US companies because regulation in Europe prevents us from getting there faster, a European source complained.
Diffraction has been used in Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport and Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, while in Europe X-ray transmission – used in baggage and body scanners - still dominates.
Diffraction by 2013?
For both practical and economic reasons, diffraction is a long way from becoming an airport standard.
Diffraction machines are about five metres high and are only capable of scanning large items, at a rate of about one minute per item. They have been used in spatial and cargo transport.
A variety of companies are reportedly developing diffraction machines for hand luggage which would take five seconds per item, but they blame the EU for preventing them from getting their products to market quickly. The machine could hit the EU market in 2013, a source predicted.
The Libyan dimension
Due to lobbying from the French and British governments, both of which have forces engaged in the Libyan conflict, the EU recently prolonged a ban on liquids on flights, a development which industry sources claim has hampered investment in diffraction as airports can stick with cheaper transmission machines.
In addition, experts argue that any security technology is shrouded in secrecy as incertitude is part of anti-terror policy, while some counter that this is also part of a commercial strategy.
Riordan encouraged the Commission to endorse pre-commercial procurement in their next round of aviation regulation to speed up products' journey to the marketplace.
"The US government stimulates technological progress by demanding ever higher level technological performance from manufacturers by using pre-commercial procurement," Riordan said.
In spite of the many checks and liquid bans, recent news reports have revealed worrying gaps in EU security checks.
In January, a French investigative programme, Envoyé Spécial, managed to bypass airport security at two separate airports in Marseille and Roissy with firearms in their hand luggage.