It is reasonable to believe that terrorist groups will continue to become more resourceful. It is highly likely that they have tested bomb variations against the presently deployed security systems and have identified weaknesses worth exploiting. Thus, the industry must be proactive and ask itself what it would do differently the day after an aircraft bombing incident. Being more diligent would be one response, but, in doing so, consideration for better passenger convenience can and should be incorporated as part of any improved security solution. Joseph S. Paresi discusses the history of security screening and explains how we can improve both security and the passenger experience.
Philip Baum, the Editor-in Chief of Aviation Security International, recently wrote an article about today’s aviation security industry being measured more by facilitation than by actual improvement to security screening. Bravo! That message seemed to be the focus of three separate aviation security conferences in the last month – not better security, but rather more bags scanned per hour through a relaxation of security.
As an industry, we certainly must recognise that security affects the convenience of free flowing travel, but we also have to recognise that security weaknesses will have catastrophic consequences if real threats are not effectively countered. We must constantly re-evaluate threats against aviation and implement solutions before our weaknesses are exploited.
A Short History of Aviation Screening
In the United States, before 9/11, security regulation was the role of a small group within the FAA. This group was established with the initial mandate of preventing hijackings. Over time, this role expanded in response to incidents. The first major incident was the downing of Pan Am 103 in 1988. At the time, there was no system that automatically detected explosive threats in hold baggage. A committee of explosive experts was established under the coordination of the National Science Foundation. This group defined the requirements of automated explosive detection which became the Certification criteria for Explosive Detection Systems (EDS) for Hold Baggage Screening, still in use today with certain appropriate modifications.
After trying various alternatives, a compliant solution was finally obtained in 1994 thanks to a clever professor from San Francisco University named Dr. Douglas Boyd. Dr. Boyd applied his knowledge of medical X-ray and Computer Tomography technology to develop the first Certified EDS, the InVision CTX 5000. While this system took over the laborious and manual effort of screeners looking at images for items that might be explosive devices in checked bags, the system did not become widely deployed until after 9/11.
In 1995, the FAA established a programme to obtain a second supplier. Traditional industry suppliers lined up. But the award was given to a little known division of Lockheed Martin led by a Chemical Engineer, Patricia Krall, who teamed with a medical supplier, Analogic. Analogic’s founder and CEO, Bernard Gordon, embraced the challenge and within two weeks designed the first multi-slice CT security system, the L-3 eXaminer 3DX™ 6000, which was certified in 1998.
By the late-1990s, the urgency to extensively deploy certified EDS had lessened. There had not been any new incidents (involving U.S. carriers) since the downing of Pan Am 103 and the TWA 800 event was deemed to not be a terrorist attack. So by the year 2000, only about 20 EDS systems had been deployed at U.S. CAT X airports; a few had been deployed overseas.
In response to 9/11, the U.S. Congress, searching for a way to reassure the American public that security was being strengthened, passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001. This Act authorised the establishment of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and, with it, the widespread deployment of Certified Explosive Detection Systems by 31st December 2002. There were practical challenges associated with delivering the estimated 4,000 certified EDS systems required to outfit all existing 425 airports. TSA accepted a compromise and authorised manually operated Electronic Trace Detectors (ETDs) as an acceptable alternative, though acknowledging that they were not as effective.
The aviation industry benefitted from government-funded and government-manned systems that were deployed by the TSA. However, the 9/11 tragedy was due to a screening policy which allowed knives and box cutters to be carried onto the aircraft. Therefore, in response to this concern, an updated restricted items list was established. Further imposed limitations on liquids, as well as the removal and scanning of shoes, followed by the deployment of full body scanners occurred in response to subsequent terrorist attempts.
In concert with these policy changes, TSA faced the need to deploy new carry-on baggage checkpoint screening equipment. As only X-ray based scanning equipment were qualified and available for use, the TSA developed a solution that combined screening with an operator image analysis and mandated the divestiture of personal items into plastic bins – not ideal, but still effective.
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