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We X-ray Bags, We X-ray Pallets, We X-ray Trucks: so why not X-ray planes?

Considerable effort and expense has gone into ensuring that all those who go through airport security checkpoints are screened efficiently. Given the industry’s focus on the search for prohibited items which might be utilised in an attack against an aircraft in-flight, it is surprising that so many of the measures taken are performed a fair distance away from the target itself. It took the events of 11th September 2001 for us to recognise the vulnerability of the cockpit to intruders and it was only as a result of the apparent loss of MH370 last year that spurred us on to actually trying to validate who was on board any flight. So why do we not focus on the aircraft itself and ensure that it is effectively screened, especially in light of the huge concern over the insider threat where somebody who has airside access could infiltrate something into the fuselage. Philip Baum travels to Romania to find out whether we could even X-ray aircraft themselves…and he encounters the Roboscan AERIA.

Technological development is vital to ensuring that we stay one step ahead of the terrorist. The value of human factors cannot be underestimated, but actual inspections, both routine and when concern has been raised, will almost always be effected using screening equipment and/or animal olfactory techniques.

At present, whilst the public face of aviation security is the screening checkpoint, we must face up to the fact that our greatest vulnerability now lies in other areas of our operation. Frequent reports of incidents based on porous airport perimeters, the insider terrorist threat, airside criminal activity and daily bomb threats all illustrate the need for countermeasures to protect the epicentre of activity – the aircraft itself. Physical searches can be attempted, but our reach is limited; canine teams can be deployed, but the range of prohibited items we are looking for is vast. So how can we inspect aircraft speedily and detect items which vary hugely in terms of size, shape and organic nature? How can we identify potential stowaways at the same time as concealed narcotics and an improvised explosive device at the same time as prohibited consignments? One possible solution is the Roboscan AERIA.

Most of our screening solutions tend to come from the US, Germany, Russia, China or the UK, so it is refreshing to see a Romanian company not only effecting the R&D, but also manufacturing a truly innovative solution. MBTelecom (MBT), the company which manufactures the Roboscan AERIA aircraft scanner, was founded by Mircea Tudor in 1994. Although it is a manufacturer of cargo, vehicle and aircraft inspection systems, MBT is primarily a systems integrator for border security projects, airport and seaport applications. It was MBT which actually developed the Romanian Customs Integrated Security System as protection for the eastern border of the European Union and the company now supplies equipment for X-ray scanning, narcotic and explosive detection and identification, mala fide travel document identification, contraband detectors and dirty bomb detection. Their equipment can be found at security checkpoints at Bucharest International Airport, some other international airports in Romania and, overseas: MBT designed and integrated the airport security checkpoints, along with the access control, video surveillance and perimeter protection system at Mozambique’s Maputo International Airport.

Now employing 130 people, MBT holds 20 different patents and, on 12 April 2013, it secured The Grand Prix Trophy of the 41st International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva for its “method and system of non-intrusive inspection of aircraft”. Indeed, it was the second time the company had won the award; in 2009 Tudor became the first ever Romanian inventor to win the Grand Prix at the 37th edition of the prestigious invention fair for his first Roboscan product, which was a robotic gamma-ray scanner to inspect trucks and containers – the first of its kind which could be remotely operated, thereby avoiding exposing its operators to ionising radiation.

Tudor was previously Vice Chairman of the Romanian Democratic Agrarian Party and was active in the media world, where he headed up two newspapers. In 1992 he ran Marexim Ltd., a leader in the import of car alarms to Romania…his first foray into the security world.

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