Best practices for baggage screening
Before 9/11, the airline industry had very few fielded checked bag systems and even fewer providers of screening solutions.
On November 19, 2001, the U.S. government passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, creating the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). The legislation mandates screening of checked-in bags on all passenger planes. As a result, the U.S. government ordered nearly 1000 machines and installed them in TSA-screened airports over the next three years.
Leidos has been delivering secure baggage screening technology ever since.
A multi-step screening process
Screening both checked and carry-on bags for potential threats is a critical aspect of safe air travel, and Leidos has been at the forefront of providing associated screening solutions.
When you arrive at an airport, one of the first things you do is check in large suitcases so they can be screened, make their way into the plane's cargo hold, ready for pickup at baggage reclaim at the other end.
Detecting and removing potential threats from any object that gets onto the aircraft is the main goal of the entire screening operation. This is a complex multi-step process for checked bags.
- Once your checked baggage goes behind the curtain on the conveyor belt, it may feed into a Leidos X-ray machine or: a computed tomography (CT) or a non-CT scanner, with automation software set up to detect banned objects. If an image looks suspicious, the bag moves to an operator for further manual inspection.
- If this operator also suspects there's something amiss, the bag moves to second-level personnel, who examine the images thoroughly.
- Sometimes operators open the bags to take and test a chemical swab of suspect items, for analysis using a chemical detection system, another technology offered by Leidos. Once it clears this multistep process, only then will the bag moves on to the conveyor belt for loading.
Three challenges of baggage screening
While baggage screening might appear simple, there are a lot of moving parts behind the scenes. We'll look at three aspects of the process and how Leidos technology weaves into each.
1. Scanning Accuracy
Arguably, the first goal for screening baggage is increasing security by detecting explosives. A few countries in the Middle East also screen for large amounts of cash and contraband, although this is not the primary focus of security operations.
Leidos technologies for scanning hazardous materials efficiently include:
- MV3D, an X-ray machine, which uses a series of fixed X-ray sources and multiple detector arrays to create high resolution 2D and 3D images providing high performance. Bags can be momentarily stopped in the scan for short periods without adversely affecting the explosives detection analysis. Such convenience saves rescreening costs. The machine easily integrates into existing baggage screening systems.
- eXaminer 3DX and eXaminer 3DX-ES, both of which incorporate CT technology and 3-D imaging. The eXaminer 3DX-ES provides 3D rotation tools to better visualize goods in bags. The flexible machines are easily configured into existing inline systems, boosting screening capabilities with minimal impact.
- Reveal CT-80DR+, which uses dual-energy CT scanning and 3-D imaging. The Reveal accommodates large baggage easily without disrupting throughput. The system can also host secondary viewing stations in case airports need multiplex operations.
In an ideal world, passenger traffic flows evenly throughout the day. In reality, bags come in waves and they have to be all screened quickly so they can travel with the passengers. This means screening machines need to have high throughput in addition to accuracy.
Volumes scanned by Leidos technologies:
- MV3D scans up to 1,800 bags per hour.
- eXaminer 3DX-ES scans 750 bags per hour
- Reveal CT-80D+ scans 226 bags per hour
3. Operational Efficiency
When baggage screening machines were deployed in the early 2000s, airports hired a lot of staff to supervise each viewing station, because an operator could only work efficiently in blocks of approximately 20 minutes. The baggage area was often noisy, so airports had to install a remote screening room further away. Connecting the various rooms and baggage together was another challenge.
Airports are looking for ways to screen the most bags by using the least amount of labor. Leidos helps that cause by adding Productivity Enhancement components to OptiNet, a multiplex network capability that allows airport authorities to match machines and operators. OptiNet provides a centralized screening solution and routes operators to idle machines so that airports use both labor and machines efficiently. Such a process reduces expenses, bottlenecks and delays.
Since no two airports are the same in terms of traffic or layout, Leidos helps customize the configuration of baggage screening solutions. An airport in Europe, for example, plans to screen the bag using two different algorithms simultaneously. The security process in such a case looks different from one where bags go through only one iteration.
What's coming next?
In the near future, expect artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to play a greater role in baggage screening. ML algorithms, trained on large databases of images of banned objects, can help process baggage more efficiently and ultimately reduce false alarm rates.
Airport professionals' jobs will be made easier in several ways, mainly through automation and information integration. All checkpoint and baggage screening will be tied together with passenger data to make processes more efficient.
Fewer bottlenecks helps ensure a frictionless passenger experience, another area where Leidos has led the way. Leidos has been at the forefront of screening technologies since 9/11. The suite of automated systems screens baggage and people and have addressed pain points in airport security over the years. Expect air travel to be a much more frictionless process as a result.