CATs at the airport

Nov 1, 2000 12:00 PM, CAREY ADAMS


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As the government and businesses unite to promote aviation security, the FAA is lending support to companies willing to develop technologies to protect the skies.

In the medical field, CAT scans are used to detect the medical conditions of various body parts. The technology has saved countless lives by detecting cancers using detailed images of the body produced by combining a computer with a rotating X-ray device to create cross-sectional images of the various organs.

Now, CAT scans are also being applied in the security field, specifically in the aviation industry.

Since 1997, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has used CAT scans (Computed Axial Tomography imaging) to trace bags and luggage at most of the major airports, including San Francisco International and Hartsfield Atlanta International in Atlanta, the nation's busiest.

"From a technology standpoint, it is one of the most sophisticated systems out there," says Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the FAA's southeast region in Atlanta.

InVision Technologies Inc., Newark, Calif., and L-3 Communications, New York, manufacture explosive detection systems that use CAT scan imaging. The two companies are the only ones that provide explosive-detection equipment certificated by the FAA for the inspection of checked baggage.

The FAA has established rigorous standards to define what type of security equipment can be used at airports across the country. The standards include tests performed on equipment to ensure its ability to perform in various scenarios that could place an airline or an airport in harm's way.

According to FAA, a challenge in securing an airport or an airline is to distinguish an explosive from the many things travelers take in their luggage, to do so quickly and efficiently, and with a manageable level of nuisance alarms.

The standards for checked baggage screening were established in response to the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 by plastic explosives hidden in a checked bag.

In 1990, InVision developed the use of X-ray technology combined with sophisticated image processing software to automatically screen checked baggage for explosives.

"CAT scan imaging is an adaptable technology. InVision has adapted it for airport explosive detection. It is a technology that has various usages," says Joe Graceffo, spokesman for InVision.

In 1994, the FAA certificated the first computed tomography system, the CTX-500 by InVision. The certification of the CTX-5000 followed nine years of development. During that time the FAA invested $90 million in explosives detection and nearly $8.6 million in the specific technology. From 1995 to 1997, the CTX-5000 was placed under operational testing to solve the operational challenges involved in integrating an explosives detection system into a baggage system and to validate the estimated costs of wide-scale deployment of explosive detection systems.

InVision delivered the first scanning devices for checked baggage to the FAA in 1997. The CTX-5000 SP scanning system, an improved version of the CTX-5000, was placed at several of the nation's busiest and largest airports. The scanning system uses X-rays to map the objects inside a bag. It combines multiple views of the bag to create cross-sectional tomographic images. The equipment analyzes the views and identifies objects that might contain explosive material.

According to Bergen, the CTX system has been very effective in enhancing security at all the airports using the system. More than 100 of the systems have been purchased by the FAA to install in the nation's airports.

InVision has also developed three series of explosive detection systems - 5000, 9000, and 2500 - for the FAA. The CTX-5500DS is an automated explosives detection system that uses computed tomography to characterize materials in checked bags and automatically identify objects that could be improvised explosive detection devices. The system first obtains and analyzes a conventional projection X-ray image to identify objects of sufficient mass to represent threats. Based on that analysis, it then automatically positions the bag to obtain a series of cross-sectional images to characterize those objects, as well as to identify possible improvised explosive devices containing sheet explosives.

Since the inception of the CTX system, L-3 Communications has developed an explosive detection system that has met FAA approval.

"We encourage companies to develop and certificate their system through the FAA," says Bergen. "Without certification from the FAA, the system can't be used."

Bergen said the FAA wants to spur competition in the industry. The competition will help each company develop more challenging systems.

In November of 1999, the FAA awarded a contract worth up to $75 million to L-3 to purchase up to 60 of its explosive detection systems. The eXaminer 3DX 6000 explosive detection system developed by L-3 operates similarly to the CTX system.

According to the FAA, the eXaminer machine uses computed tomography and is designed with multiple detector arrays and a spiral-scanning mode to allow for continuous data collection to produce either a 3-D or 2-D image of an entire bag. When the system alarms on a suspect bag, the parts of the object of interest are highlighted. The operator can then rotate the image of the object to view it from different perspectives to resolve the alarm. The system can analyze a bag in seven seconds.

Bergen says the FAA plans to continue to explore more ways to create better security for the air traveling public.

In addition to the explosive detection systems, the FAA is continuing to enhance security by deploying computer-based training and automated threat-image projection systems to improve and monitor the performance of checkpoint screeners, implementing a new automated passenger screening program, increasing the number of FAA canine explosives detection teams at the nation's airports, and encouraging the growth of FAA-industry airport consortia to test and improve security.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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