Within the next year the Transportation Security Administration will host a new competition for advanced checkpoint baggage scanners that could result in one or more awardees, agency Chief David Pekoske said on March 29, a day after TSA awarded a $96.8 million contract to Smiths Detection to provide the first 300 computed tomography (CT)-based systems to some U.S. airports.

The award to Smiths Detection is just the first of a multiphase effort to bring more than 2,000 of the checkpoint CT systems to U.S. airports that will also include evolving the capabilities of the scanners to the point where passengers don’t have to divest anything from their carry-on bags, Pekoske said in a teleconference with reporters.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske. Photo: TSA

The CT technology is currently used to automatically screen checked bags for explosives and initially the systems that Smiths supplies to the TSA will allow travelers to keep their electronic devices in their bags, Pekoske said. In three to five years, he estimates the detection algorithms in the systems will develop to the point that travelers wont’ have to divest liquids, aerosols, gels and food items.

Testing and evaluation of various vendors’ checkpoint systems to meet more stringent threat screening requirements will continue. Initial development testing results have been “positive,” Pekoske said.

The CT technology is a “game changer,” Pekoske said, highlighting that it’s better than the current Advanced Technology X-ray systems at detecting the threat items TSA wants to detect and also provides a three-dimensional image to the operator rather than the current 2-D image that is better for the operator. Eventually, the CT systems will automatically detect all the threats that TSA is concerned with inside carry-on bags.

In ongoing evaluations of CT systems supplied by several vendors, Pekoske said that overall passenger throughput remains the same, but he added that as operators and travelers become accustomed to the new technology, he expects throughputs to improve.

Shan Hood, president of Smiths Detection, Inc., the U.S.-based unit of Britain’s Smiths Group, told Defense Daily in an interview on March 29 that between the existing capabilities of the CT machines combined with deep learning algorithms that his company is developing, this will advance the capability of the overall technology to the point where passengers don’t have to divest anything from their bags. Moreover, these higher level capabilities mean an image will only be presented to an operator when there is an alarm, he said.

Fewer images to be reviewed at the machine by an operator open the door for remote reviewing by operators, easing manpower requirements, Hood said.

Hood said that deployments of the company’s HI-SCAN 6040 CTiX machines will begin within 90 days and be complete by the end of 2020. Pekoske said TSA is still finalizing the initial airports that the 300 CTiX machines will be deployed to.

In the upcoming competition, TSA will ask vendors to provide an integrated solution that marries their CT offerings with the Automated Screening Lanes (ASLs) the agency has been evaluating at a number of airports across the country. The ASLs include a number of features to enhance security and passenger convenience.

The ASLs include multiple divestment stations to allow several or more travelers at once to queue their carry-on bags. They also feature larger bins, mechanized rollers, divert lanes to a secondary inspection area for suspect bags, and automated tray returns.

TSA has said that where ASLs are deployed, they have significantly improved passenger throughput at airport checkpoints.

A complete rollout of CT systems to airport checkpoints will take up to eight years, Pekoske said. TSA is seeking funding for more than 300 more systems in its fiscal year 2020 budget request.

The competitors for the checkpoint CT systems include Smiths, Analogic, Integrated Defense & Security Solutions, and L3 Technologies [LLL]. Smiths and L3 also provide ASLs as do other companies such as OSI Systems’ [OSIS] Rapiscan Systems division and the Dutch companies Vanderlande and Scarabee.

Smiths and Rapiscan both supply the current AT X-ray systems to TSA for screening carry-on bags at U.S. airports.

In addition to the CT systems, TSA is either rolling out, or evaluating, new technologies to further increase security and traveler convenience at airport checkpoints. In February, the agency awarded France-based IDEMIA a contract to provide Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) that will be used by TSA Travel Document Checkers before entry into screening lanes.

The CAT system automatically checks the validity of travel documents and provides the TSA officer with information about the traveler and will eliminate the need for travelers to present their boarding passes. CAT deployments will begin this summer, a TSA spokeswoman told Defense Daily.

TSA is also prototype testing a new body scanner provided by Germany’s Rohde & Schwarz called the Quick Personnel Security (QPS) Scanner 201. These have been deployed for airport evaluations, Pekoske said.

The QPS scanner can scan people faster than the current Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), allows travelers to keep their arms at their sides rather than put them over their heads like the current systems require, allows wheelchair-bound passengers to pass through the system, and features separate alarm resolution stations as pat down searches don’t have to be performed at the monitor, the spokeswoman said. L3 provides the current AIT systems to TSA.

Over the “next several years you’ll see gradual improvements” in the passenger experience at checkpoints, Pekoske said.