As the Transportation Security Administration prepares to further test and hopefully deploy next-generation technology at airport security checkpoints, the agency wants to align the procurements of new carry-on baggage scanners and the related automated baggage handling systems that feed parcels into scanners and then extracts them, according to the agency’s chief.
The computed-tomography (CT)-based scanners and the Automated Screening Lanes (ASLs) combined are a system and TSA wants to “marry up” the procurements of the two technologies, David Pekoske, the TSA administrator, said on a conference call with media.
“And that’s kind of our path forward on those, that is to look at procuring a system rather than components of a system because it’s better if TSA is not the integrator in my opinion in that process,” he said.
TSA since last year has been evaluating CT systems from two manufacturers in airports and over the course of this summer plans to have about 35 of scanners deployed for further operational testing and evaluation, Pekoske said. The agency is evaluating CT systems supplied by L3 Technologies [LLL] and Integrated Defense & Security Solutions in airports while three other companies–Analogic [ALOG], Britain’s Smiths Detection, and ScanTech–are also developing systems for the agency to test in airports.
If the testing this summer goes well, TSA plans to use funding from the fiscal year 2019 appropriation to begin purchasing at least another 145 CT systems early in calendar year, Pekoske said.
The companies manufacturing CT systems are currently developing new detection algorithms, called the Accessible Property Screening Systems, to meet evolving threats. Successfully developing the APSS will be crucial for the manufacturers to compete for TSA’s business.
The CT systems are based on the same technology currently used to automatically screen checked bags for explosives. Those systems are larger and the manufacturers have shrunk the physical footprint of the next-generation systems for checkpoint use. The technology presents images in three-dimensions, enhancing the awareness of operators of a bag’s contents.
Pekoske said that within a few years the CT systems may “potentially not require passengers to divest anything in a carry-on bag. The bags can just go through the X-ray as they are presented.”
TSA currently has more than 130 of the ASLs deployed at a number of airports. The systems have been purchased and gifted to the agency by participating airlines and airports to help speed the evaluations of the technology.
L3 and the Dutch company Scarabee are the only two companies currently providing the ASLs for testing at airports. TSA has also approved ASLs supplied by Netherlands-based Vanderlande for airport testing.
The ASLs feature mechanized rollers for faster feeding of the X-ray systems, automated tray returns, as well as five or six divestment stations for passengers to less stressfully load their belongings. The lanes also allow for suspect bags to be automatically diverted into a secondary inspection area for further screening so as to not have parcels carried back to the front of the X-ray system to be rescreened in the primary lane.
TSA has said previously that the ASLs have sped up transit times for travelers through checkpoints by 30 percent or more and Pekoske said they have been “better for everybody overall.”
The CT systems, ASLs, and the Advanced Integrated Technology body scanners that are at airport security checkpoints, all provide data that TSA hopes to eventually take advantage of in the future to enhance security through more effective screening and improve the passenger experience. Pekoske said that Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) systems that are currently in testing will also provide data that will help the agency improve the screening process.
The CAT systems are expected to begin significant deployments in 2019, and they will automatically verify the authenticity of travel documents and also pull the relevant data, name, date of birth, and gender, and send it to the agency’s Secure Flight database to determine whether a traveler should go through a trusted traveler lane for expedited screening or a standard lane for more robust screening.
“Once we connect all of this technology together, which is several years forward, I think at this point, is we ought to be able to have further segmentation of passengers based on risk so that the lowest risk passengers, the trusted traveler registrants, they will go through security very quickly,” Pekoske said. “Basically, more security for more risk that a passenger may present or where we don’t’ know what the risk is, which will be very much like the standard lane.”
There are currently about 2,400 security checkpoint lanes at airports across the U.S.