ISJ Exclusive: Closing the gaps in air cargo security


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Legislation and growing demands on security mean the aviation industry can no longer rely on sniffer dogs alone, reports Astrophysics.

The limitations of outdated security systems are causing a global reconsideration of what security really means. Emerging technologies, methodologies and schools of thought are revolutionising security spaces in many sectors, like air travel and air cargo.

Airports, airlines, customs agencies, freight forwarders and border security administrations are changing how they value security technology. They no longer seek the most affordable compliance product. Instead, they are opting for high performance solutions offering heightened security and efficiency.

Security methods

In the US, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act and the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 together require X-ray scanning for all airport baggage and analogous screening techniques for air cargo.

Some air cargo handling facilities accomplish this through X-ray scanners, but others use ineffective screening methods and budget technology.

Alternative detection devices such as Explosive Trace Detectors (ETD) may satisfy regulatory obligations, but they are comparatively expensive per unit and insufficient for properly securing a large cargo skid.

Even K9s (sniffer dogs) are not an adequate inspection method for air cargo.

A scent-proof bag hidden at the center of a cargo skid could negate a K9’s sense of smell and busy airport cargo facilities cannot maintain enough K9 teams to inspect all items.

For example, in April 2022, a British woman was arrested at Cancun International Airport (CUN) for possession of 22 lbs of cocaine. She had passed through security without suspicion until some guards who handled her bag found it inexplicably heavy.

They called a drug dog and passed the bag through an X-ray scanner, revealing a hidden compartment of drugs.

This case highlights both the limitations of profiling and physical inspection, and the comparative value of X-ray scanning: The guards were only prompted to investigate further because the woman failed to account for her suspiciously heavy bag. If the airport had a policy of X-ray screening for all bags, these drugs and many more smuggling attempts would likely be easily thwarted without the need for other security measures.

A cargo handling facility, where material is handled via forklift and contained in crates and wrapped skids, is even more vulnerable to the limitations of physical search methods.

Passing all skids and crates through powerful X-ray scanning machines is the only way to ensure maximum security. Advanced X-ray scanners are simply faster and more cost-effective solutions that can screen more cargo, have better detection of explosives and narcotics, can operate at all hours and provide an expansive view of the scanned cargo.

Market trends

According to the Air Cargo Security Screening Market, 2022-2029 report by Fortune Business Insights, the air cargo market will grow owing to increasing air travel. Worldwide, it is down on pre-pandemic numbers, but growth is upwards.

As part of the TSA “Air Cargo Security Roadmap” published in 2021, all air cargo handlers and processing facilities that service US air carriers are required to modernise their screening procedures through the implementation of technology and overhauling policy procedures.

To comply, air cargo handlers in the US and abroad are investing in high-quality, high-tech X-ray scanning equipment to properly screen cargo at their facilities.

The importance of X-ray voltage

Astrophysics, a US-based manufacturer, is a leader in the X-ray cargo scanning industry with its diverse line-up of cargo scanning equipment.

It offers multiple conventional cargo scanners with 180kV, 200kV and 320kV generators as well as small cargo scanners and CT machines, each with a different purpose and application.

A 180kV generator, with a typical steel penetration of 35-37mm, is generally sufficient for medium and large luggage and small cargo crates that do not contain otherwise dense material. 200kV generators, able to reach a steel penetration of 57mm, can typically scan light organic materials such as textiles, thin metals and mixed materials such as electronics, and machine components/metals that are not densely packed.

For high density cargo including produce, heavy metals and tightly packed materials, only the powerful 320kV cargo scanners will penetrate the material.

The 180kV and 200kV systems have historically been in higher demand, however, customers now value the higher penetration and larger source power of the 320kV systems over the potential savings of lesser-powered scanners. This push for uncompromising quality and ultimate security is propagated by security professionals and airline management, who are becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of less effective security methods.

Why 320kV?

Identifying the necessary scanner power is important for choosing the right scanning system and for dense organic or heavy metallic cargo, only the power of a 320kV X-ray generator is sufficient for effective screening. This is especially important for break-bulk cargo. Better penetration means that cargo can be packed tighter and larger, reducing the number of scans needed to effectively screen a full cargo load.

The XIS-1818DV 320kV is the only 320kV source on the market and the most powerful X-ray cargo scanner in its class. Its 320kV source is capable of effective penetration up to 80mm of solid steel, compared to 70mm for competing 300kV systems and 57mm for a 200kV source.

The dramatic increase in power makes the XIS-1818DV 320kV capable of scanning heavy and dense cargo such as packed produce or heavy metal components.

CT Cargo Scanning

The Multi-View CT (MVCT) is the most advanced cargo scanner on the market and the first product to bring CT technology to cargo screening. Featuring a 450kV generator, the MVCT boasts almost double the penetration capability of a conventional 180-200kV cargo scanner, penetrating up to 90mm of solid steel.

The MVCT provides two technologies with both X-ray multi-view and CT screening modes to enable operators increased throughput. In multi-view mode, the operator receives the image in just seconds and can immediately reject a pallet if a threat is detected. If further visibility of the pallet is required, the operator can proceed with CT mode.

Operators then can rotate the CT image a full 360° and apply advanced imaging functions and filters to examine complex, cluttered and even non-homogenous pallets without the need for break-bulk screening.

They can slice and analyse any sliver of the skid from any scanned angle, which is an unprecedented level of security for air cargo screening. The MVCT enables operators to identify threats anywhere in the pallet with precision and where no other product can compare.

Performance without compromise

Astrophysics is among the largest suppliers of X-ray cargo systems in the US, with scanners deployed at major airports such as: JFK Airport in New York (JFK), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in California, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW) in Texas, Miami International Airport (MIA) in Florida and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Illinois, as well as international hubs like London-Heathrow Airport (LHR) in the UK, Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) in Paris, Tel Aviv Airport (TLV) in Israel, Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVA) in Mexico and others across the world.

Astrophysics is known in the X-ray industry as the gold standard for imaging quality, customisation and maintenance. It’s screening software contains a wide range of image manipulation functions and post-processing algorithms to consistently deliver the clearest and best quality images available.

High quality parts and a worldwide network of experienced field service personnel guarantee Astrophysics systems continually deliver peak performance.

“We truly live up to our slogan ‘Tomorrow’s Technology for Today’s Security’ and are proud to advance the next generation of cargo screening technology,” said Astrophysics CEO François Zayek.

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This article was originally published in the October edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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