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Airports examine ways to boost security, safety

tech August 7, 1996
Web posted at: 12:10 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (CNN) -- American airports are looking to bolster security, and they're turning to the Federal Aviation Administration's Technical Center for answers.

The center is located just outside Atlantic City and was developed four years ago to enhance airport and airplane security.

Here's a sample of new technology that may be coming to an airport near you:

  • A bomb-proof airline cargo container made of composite material. If a bomb were to go off, the container would bend but not shatter.

  • A sniffing device, known as the Itemizer, that can detect explosives in carry-on luggage. Authorities vacuum around a bag with the Itemizer and then place the vacuum's filter into a high-tech piece of machinery that can tell whether plastic explosives are present. Cost: about $40,000 to $50,000.

  • A sophisticated baggage scanner, the CTX-5000 SP, that uses CAT-scan technology to spot plastic explosives. The scanner screens up to 150 checked bags per hour and costs about $1 million. It's being tested in Atlanta and San Francisco.


Congress demanded a high-tech answer to terrorist threats in 1990, just two years after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland killed all aboard.

Four years later, the original CTX-5000 was developed. The machine was much slower than the current version and never won FAA certification.

Similar machines exist overseas, but the government hasn't approved them either. And for good reason, FAA officials say.

"We don't want to be wasting taxpayers' dollars. Obviously, buying a lot of equipment that really isn't decreasing the risk" of terrorism threats would be a waste of money, said Guy Gardner, director of the FAA Technical Center.

Also, it would take billions of dollars to equip all major U.S. airports with proper equipment and the personnel to manage it.

To help pay for such costs, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, suggests raising ticket taxes by $4 per round trip. He also says the public must get used to longer lines as security becomes more strict.

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