New Report Offers Ways to Speed Airport Security

TSA considers the balance between through-put and security at airport security checkpoints


While the report found ways to improve security and increase the processing of passengers, it said that to accomplish both simultaneously would most likely require additional checkpoint lanes.

Because work on the report has been under way for more than a year, Congress is already moving to provide financing for certain proposals, Homeland Security officials say.

''It is not gathering dust on a shelf,'' Donald W. Tighe, a department spokesman, said of the report, which does not include cost estimates for the security changes. ''It is translating into action.''

The most severe domestic shortcomings involved passenger checkpoints, and included unnecessary bottlenecks and less-than-satisfactory security, the report said.

Checkpoints are equipped with devices known as explosives trace detection machines, in which the screener rubs a swab along a surface to look for minute amounts of explosives. But the machines get only ''limited, undirected use,'' the report found, meaning that a very small percentage of carry-on bags or other items are examined. By adding a single screener to the typical checkpoint, these machines could be used to check the boarding passes, hands and shoes of all passengers.

The additional work could be accommodated in part because some manual tasks could be automated, like moving empty bins back to the front of the line via conveyor belt. As a result, a reconfigured checkpoint used in the study could handle 171 to 179 passengers an hour per lane, compared with the current 183, meaning a major improvement in security without a corresponding slowdown in passenger screening.

Another option to screen better for explosives, Mr. Tighe said, is to install more expensive machines that can detect particles of explosives displaced by puffs of air as passengers walk through them.

Recommendations related to checked baggage include allowing workers monitoring the scanning device to rely more on the computer screen to determine if a suspicious-looking item is an actual threat, instead of the more time-consuming process of opening up the bag.

Air cargo on passenger planes is rarely physically inspected today. Several alternatives were proposed for systems that could handle such a complicated task, given the many different sizes and weights of packages. The House of Representatives has allocated $30 million to Homeland Security for testing such options in the coming year.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is enhancing security for passengers flying to the United States, the report says. Ideally, the report says, the system should be set up so that ''passengers departing overseas locations for the U.S. can expect the same level of security.''

But the report makes clear that this is not the case. Whatever the shortcomings of the United States system, more severe problems existed at most of the 16 airports in South America, Asia and Europe that were examined for the report.

''Urgent attention needs to be given to some security measures that can be taken very quickly at relatively low costs,'' the report says, recommending, for example, wider use of explosives trace detection machines.

Christopher R. Bidwell, managing director for security at the Air Transport Association, who has seen a draft of the report, said many of the recommendations seemed obvious. But pulling together all of these possible short-term improvements in aviation security is still worthwhile, he said.

''They are not visionary by any means,'' Mr. Bidwell said. ''But they are things that need to happen.''