Allentown, Pa., Airport Officials Look to Improve Baggage Scanning Efficiency

Dec. 16--Lehigh Valley International Airport has plans to install a larger baggage scanning machine, which can scan more bags for explosives per hour. Officials say the new machine is more accurate and faster, which will cut down on lines at baggage screening station during peak travel hours.

The majority of checked luggage at LVIA is scanned by a machine that is similar to a CT scan. But during busy times, the airport also uses for some luggage another machine that tests for trace molecules of explosives.

Airport officials say they want the new machine because it has better technology that will most likely produce fewer false positive readings.

In order to obtain the larger scanner, the airport will need to spend at least $30,000 to have it shipped here. Airport officials said Thursday the Transportation Security Administration, which governs security at the nation's airports, has been unable to ship the machine to LVIA because of budget constraints.

The machine, which is identical to LVIA's current scanner but with more capacity, is at another airport that officials did not identify.

"Effectively the TSA is telling us, 'There's a machine out there with your name on it, LVIA, but the catch is we don't have the funding to transport it," " said Larry Krauter, deputy executive director of Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which operates LVIA.

The airport's current computer tomography, or CTX, machine takes an image akin to a CT scan of the luggage that passengers check on board an airplane. The image helps screeners determine if there might be explosive materials in bags that are stored in the underside of planes. By contrast, the trace detection machine, which is used for a fraction of the bags, cannot produce an image of the luggage.

The trace detector provides useful screening but the procedures are not as uniform, said George Doughty, the airport authority's executive director. Using a trace detector, screeners can swab the outside or the inside of a bag, or they can even dump out all of the contents.

He said the larger CTX machine will increase by 25 to 30 percent the number of bags scanned per hour. That will come in handy on busy Monday mornings, when many businesspeople take off for work trips. Last year, more than 1 million passengers flew through LVIA, which has about 50 daily flights.

Doughty has been a vocal supporter of increased pre-boarding screening procedures, which he thinks are more effective in identifying problems than deploying air marshals on planes. This month in Miami, an air marshal shot and killed a passenger who made a bomb threat. After the incident, investigators did not find a bomb, and family members said the man didn't take his medicine.

"If you have effective screening, you don't have to worry about a hijacker," Doughty said. "He won't be able to do anything. You don't have to worry about a bomb because it won't be there."

The TSA has been criticized by some people in the aviation community. One industry consultant recently compared the agency to the creature in the 1950s sci-fi film "The Blob."

"It is huge, and getting bigger all the time," wrote Mike Boyd of the Boyd Group of Evergreen, Colo. "It has no direction. It has no real idea of what it's supposed to do, except ooze all over our transportation system, growing larger by the day, aimlessly screwing things up, and devouring increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars."

TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said the agency makes sure all airports screen 100 percent of the luggage for explosives, and that is the most important thing. He declined to discuss which screening machines are better.

Kayser also said the TSA is trying to focus its energies on where the threat is greatest.

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