The TSA was all but was forced to admit in 2017 that their x-ray technology cannot see the latest iteration of bombs threatening aircraft, bombs concealed in large electronic devices or apparently buried under too much food in your carry-on bag. During the AAAE/TSA/DHS Annual Aviation Security Summit in Washington DC in December 2017, the rollout of more advanced CT machines into the screening checkpoints to better detect the evolving terrorist threat was discussed.

The largest discussion centralized around the expected rollout of more CT (Computerized Tomography – i.e. cat scans) to the screening checkpoints. CT systems are the same types of machines that have been used to scan checked baggage for years. Certain modifications are necessary before they can be deployed in large numbers to checkpoints, however. While size and power requirements were always an issue in deploying the CTs to the checkpoints, they must also be configured to look for the vast array of prohibited items on TSA’s list. For checked baggage, CTs just have to look for potential bombs and guns. At the checkpoint, they’ll have to identify knives and many other dangerous items that are not allowed in the cabin. A large advantage to adding CT machines to our passenger baggage screening process is that they can operate on their own and only alarm when something suspicious is spotted. Once the kinks are worked out, we may one day have a rapid scanning CT machine that kicks bags and other carry on luggage through faster than their owner can get through the metal detector and body imagers.

Rather than incurring the expense of replacing all of the existing x-ray machines at the checkpoints, it is more likely that the industry will only replace a few with CTs that will be used to screen baggage from identified highest risk passengers. How will TSA know how to identify these highest risk passengers? At first, it will be people not enrolled in PreCheck, CPB’s Global Entry program or another trusted population. Eventually, TSA may have biometrics implemented into the checkpoints, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for that in 2018. The technology is not yet advanced enough to prove effective and the expense may be too great.

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