According to World Bank data, over the last 30 years the number of global air passengers has grown from around 905 million per annum to 3.97 billion in 2017.
At the same time, the airline industry encountered a number of terror-related incidents – from liquid explosives to soft-target airport attacks.
In recent years, threats have evolved with smaller and more complex concealments and more will inevitably follow as air travel becomes an even bigger part of our lives, Boeing predicting that air traffic will double by 2037.
As part of the efforts to thwart terror threats, government’s have introduced restrictions on liquids, electronics and even powders that passengers could bring on board an aircraft in a bid to keep the planes, crew and passengers safe and secure.
Over the years, regulators have introduced a series of standards and security enhancements to ensure air travel remains safe and secure.
In 2015, the European Union released the Explosives Detection Systems for Cabin Baggage (EDS CB) standards. The management of equipment testing and the production of results is the responsibility of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC).
This led to the introduction of Computed Tomography (CT) technology at checkpoints. However, regulators have provided airports with options on the implementation of these standards depending on their individual circumstances, priorities and resources.
With the use of EDS CB certified equipment by airports following ECAC Regulations, the random screening of a certain percentage of all passenger belongings is no longer required.
If it’s a C1 certified screening system, passengers need to remove electronics and liquids from their hand baggage. If it’s a C2 certified system, subject to the national regulator, passengers can leave electronic items in their bags while, removing liquids out of their bags.
And if a scanner meets the C3 standard, nothing needs to be removed from the bag. This provides opportunities to change the divestment process, making it less complex and faster, thereby improving passengers’ travelling experience.
CT technology is the only technology that is likely to meet EDS CB C3 (and in the future C4) standards.
How does CT differ from current scanners? CT technology isn’t new. Developed originally for medical applications, CT was first used for hold baggage security scanners in the early 1990s.
It has taken time for both regulatory and technological advancements to make it a viable option for cabin baggage; bearing in mind the checkpoint environment demands for something much smaller, lighter and less intrusive.
Typically, X-ray scanners at a checkpoint provide 2D images from fixed generators and detectors. Unlike these conventional systems, the X-ray generator and detectors in a checkpoint CT system are mounted on a gantry, which rotates at a constant speed as the hand baggage is carried through the scanner on a conveyor belt.
A rotating gantry spins around the object taking hundreds of views at slightly different angles and then reconstructs the raw data into volumetric 3D images.
The comprehensive data collected is used to make more precise measurements and very accurate judgements on substances within a bag. For example, it supports operators by automatically differentiating between explosives and other organic, but benign, items such as chocolate.
CT scanning is expected to offer opportunities to drive automation and operational efficiency at checkpoints. In addition to providing high-level automated detection, it also paves the way for further sophisticated algorithms, which support automatic object recognition of prohibited items.
Currently, an operator needs to review every image generated by the scanner, but once object recognition algorithms are deployed, this process – the detection of explosives and prohibited objects – could introduce opportunities for various levels of automation, and an operator might only need to conduct follow-up inspections.
By elevating the detection of explosives in hand luggage to a completely new level, CT technology will improve the safety and security of air traffic, operational efficiency of airports and the aviation network and significantly improve the passengers’ experience.