TSA partners with American Airlines to modernize airport security checkpoints

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The Transportation Security Administration is teaming up with American Airlines to test out new security screening technologies this fall at four locations across the U.S.

One new system, which TSA is already using at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, automates more of the luggage screening process and is expected to reduce waiting times by 30 percent. American Airlines plans to deploy it in Miami International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

“Our foremost priority is the security of the traveling public,” TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger wrote in a press release last week. “To ensure that we remain up-to-date in an evolving threat environment, TSA continues to test and deploy state-of-the-art technologies. This collaboration with American Airlines is an important step in enhancing the traveler experience while maintaining effective security.”

The revamped security lanes will use larger bins and automated belts that remove bags from the line to be scanned and tagged with a radio frequency identifier. Bags are then returned to the conveyor belt or sent to a security checkpoint for closer inspection without interrupting the flow of traffic.

“The bins are automatically returned to the front of the process, which has been a huge problem over the years at TSA because it takes so much manpower to move those bins back and forth — they run out, it kind of slows things down and diverts screener attention,” Stewart Verdery, founder of Monument Policy Group and former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, told FedScoop.

The lanes will also use equipment that takes photographs of the outside of each bag and matches them to the X-rays.

Separately, the organizations plan to start using computed tomography, or CT, technology, to scan carry-on luggage at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport toward the end of 2016

Similar to CAT scans, CT technology senses the density of items packed within each suitcase. It would allow airline passengers to bypass the step of taking liquids and laptops out of their bags, reducing the need for bins and cutting down on wait times, according to the release. 

It is currently used for checked luggage at most airports and could be seen at other locations if the pilot program is successful.

The cost of the project has not been made public, but Verdery guesses it will be in the “tens of millions.”

“TSA’s budget has been going down the last few years, particularly their budget for technology and capital investment. Keeping the old equipment up to speed has been very expensive, taking up more and more of the equipment budget that does exist. It’s the kind of public-private partnership we need in times of tight budget,” Verdery said.

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
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