Jacksonville International Airport is one of 16 airports chosen by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to test two kinds of explosive detection technologies, one of which may reduce the need for pat-down searches, officials said. The first piece of equipment may be installed at JIA by the Feb. 6 Super Bowl, said TSA spokeswoman Lauren Stover.
That machine, costing about $130,000, is called an explosive trace portal. It works by having a traveler stand in a booth while blowing several puffs of air over his or her body. The air is then quickly analyzed for signs of explosives.
The other machine, a backscatter X-ray, allows screeners to see through clothing to search for dense objects, like plastic explosives. Earlier trials of the backscatter device proved controversial because images of travelers' bodies were projected onto a monitor. The equipment now only displays an image of a generic body with problem areas highlighted. Stover said it was unclear when JIA would receive that piece of equipment, the cost of which was unavailable.
With the full-body scans provided by the backscatter devices, fewer manual pat-down searches may be required, Stover said.
Some people, especially women, have found pat-downs to be objectionable.
Both types of devices, which the TSA is paying for, will only be used on passengers selected for additional screening, she said.
Stover said the TSA was testing the equipment as "part of our continuing commitment to improve security in the U.S. transportation system."
It's also a step recommended by the Sept. 11 commission, which, in its final report, advised the TSA to better screen travelers for explosives. That need became especially clear when two Russian airliners were destroyed in apparent suicide bombings on Aug. 24.
Airports in Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa are the only Florida airports selected to receive the devices in this phase of testing. They were chosen for reasons including passenger volume, geographic location, checkpoint design and the interest of each airport in testing new equipment, according to the TSA.
"It's a real coup for JIA to be selected by the TSA," said airport spokesman Michael Stewart.
In May 2002, JIA was the first airport in the country chosen by the TSA to receive a new, advanced type of baggage screening system. That so-called "in-line" system began operating in December 2002.
Paul Hackenberry, the TSA's security director at JIA, could not be reached Tuesday.
JIA handled 4.8 million passengers in 2003, making it Florida's seventh busiest airport, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.