The Early Years, Aviation Passenger Screening

The first twenty years of aviation passenger screening relied on similar stand-alone technologies. Carry-on baggage screening started with a good resolution, greyscale, X-Ray devices, with the first of these tube-based units being deployed July 1970 at New Orleans International Airport. The early walk-through metal detectors used the same basic active electronic pulse technology with varying receiver/transmitter size, placement, and quantities between the different models and manufacturers. Many companies provided solutions based on the technology available at that time. Poor operator training, urban legends, and other factors often confused these active metal detectors as magnetometers. A magnetometer can only detect magnetic metals. They would not work well as a security device looking for weapons made of all types of metals on people. This is not a semantic argument but a clear example of the lack of understanding of what technologies were available and used at the time. Operators need to have adequate knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of their tools to ensure they are making an informed decision. A new industry was born. The basic security checkpoint of a single walk-through metal detector and its associated x-ray machine started showing up in airports and office buildings alike. After the December 1972 FAA's emergency order mandating universal physical screening, the aviation passenger screening market exploded.

The 1990s saw dramatic changes in aviation passenger screening, starting with the new technologies, processes, procedures, and training. Checkpoints began to change from individual technologies to a system of technologies working together in a layered approach. These were commonly called a mod-set. The basic set was two metal detectors and two x-ray machines. Studies on the impact of operator bias, use of lighting, visual cues, advances in computer technology, system networking, doppler radar, intelligent video, and camera systems, trace explosive detection machines along with new types of walk-through metal detectors and x-ray machines all influenced the creation of highly efficient security systems at many North American Airports. These systems leveraged the technologies to create primary and secondary screening points to ease congestion and move risk to the middle of the checkpoint and not at the front of a single walk-through metal detector. Walls within the checkpoint area created focus zones and security containment areas; cameras were used to back up and validate procedures. Automated exit lanes were implemented at over 150 checkpoints increasing the security at those exit points and alleviating staff for better use. Systems started to network together in demonstration pilots, with a couple of significant airlines leading the way. By the year 2000, many people, agencies, and locations were leading the early adaptation and testing of many of the modern risk-based screening concepts in use today, and some were lost to time. Unfortunately, the national standards did not grow. Some U.S. airports still had a basic mod-set with the magnetometers and bag machines with minimal operator training and knowledge. The global aviation tragedy shifted the airport passenger screening into a national focus and the basic mod set was back at every U.S. airport.

Where do these early adopters with decades of experience go? They find their niche in small consulting companies and corners of government offices, trying to do their best to make aviation safer one day at a time. The goal of an unintrusive screening system based on individuals' risk factors is not lost with many people. Want to find or work with these experts? You can contact us here.

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