Detection systems market at a crossroads

Despite public outcry about airport security, analysts say new scanning technologies may not become prevalent

In the wake of the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner over Detroit last month, there has been a lot of public outcry for enhanced screening measures at airports, particularly as it pertains to body scanners. However, more traditional screening methods such as metal detectors and baggage X-rays, may remain the most prevalent solutions if Congress enacts legislation that prohibits the use of body scanners as a primary screening method.

Despite that fact that President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security to acquire nearly $1 billion worth of advanced-technology, including body scanners in sweeping changes earlier this month, a bill currently sits on the floor of the Senate that would render that technology useless.

H.R. 2027, also known as the Aircraft Passenger Whole-Body Imaging Limitations Act of 2009, “prohibits the use of whole-body imaging technology as the sole or primary method of screening aircraft passengers. Allows its use only if another method of screening, such as metal detection, demonstrates cause for preventing a passenger from boarding an aircraft.”

According to Justin Siller, a market analyst for IMS Research, the legislation was passed in June by the House and currently awaits a vote before the full Senate. Siller believes that if the resolution passes that there will not be widespread implementation of body scanners across the nation.

“It’s two markets, the millimeter wave and the backscatter (body scanning technologies) and metal detection,” he said. “The metal detection (market) will continue to grow well if (it) remains the primary screening option. If it doesn’t, basically the markets will reverse and you will see these other technologies growing at a rapid pace while metal detectors will slow.

The two types of aforementioned technologies, millimeter wave and backscatter X-ray, both essentially provide users with a full body image of a subject using different methods. The millimeter wave or ultra high-frequency wave is transmitted from two antennas simultaneously as they rotate around the body. The wave energy reflected back results in a three dimensional image of the person. With a backscatter X-ray, the radiation that reflects back from an object is used to construct a two-dimensional image of what it being scanned. Both Smiths Detection and L-3 Communications have millimeter wave scanning systems available on the market, while Rapiscan and American Science & Engineering offer backscatter X-ray systems.

Another type of technology that was being used in pilot testing by the Transportation Security Administration, but have now been banned for use include trace portal detection systems, also known as “puffers.” These systems were designed to shoot multiple puffs of air at an airline passenger, thus flushing out particles that could be analyzed for explosives or drugs. According to Siller, these systems are not being phased out by the TSA due to reliability problems.

Despite the numerous privacy concerns that body scanners have evoked in the U.S. and Western Europe, Siller said that these technologies have been widely implemented in regions where the same concerns are not as prevalent, such as the Middle East. Worries about TSA agents looking at nude outlines may also be on the decline in the U.S. According to a recent USA Today/ Gallop poll, 78 percent of respondents approved of the use of these new technologies, with 67 percent saying they would be willing to be scanned.

“For the most part (the argument) is being framed that you have to make a choice between (privacy and security),” said Robert Daly, chief technology officer and senior vice president of engineering for Florida-based Brijot Imaging Systems.

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