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BWI to be First East Coast Airport with New Explosive Detectors

By Jill Caniglia
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

ANNAPOLIS - Baltimore/Washington International Airport officials hope to have four state-of-the-art explosive detection machines in place before Thanksgiving, making it the first East Coast airport to have such technology. 

The eXaminer 3DX 6000, manufactured by L-3 Communications based in New York, detects explosives and metal objects by combining the two stages of traditional explosive detection systems - X-ray and computerized tomography scans, commonly known as CT scans - into one, said Joe Paresi, the company's security division president. 

Instead of a single-slice CT scan that current machines perform, the new machine does a multi-slice CT scan to provide a three-dimensional picture of every piece of luggage, said Paresi. The multi-slice CT capabilities allow the machine to discriminate the density, texture and size of all objects, maximizing detection and minimizing false alarms, said Paresi. 

That makes the machine "more thorough and accurate" than others, he said. 

The Federal Aviation Administration granted airlines at BWI use of the machines about two weeks ago. The FAA will pay for their installation and maintenance for one year. 

The airlines had previously rejected the FAA's offer because of expensive operating costs, said Melanie Miller, BWI spokeswoman. One machine costs about $1 million up front and $50,000 a year to maintain, said Paresi. 

Miller wouldn't say how many times the airlines turned down the FAA or whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused them to accept the offer this time. "Before Sept. 11, we didn't think about things the way we do now," she said. But, this is something the airlines have always wanted, Miller added. 

The machines, prominently displayed in front of airline ticket counters, will eliminate the current procedure of searching luggage for explosive devices by hand. Security personnel, employed by the airlines, will staff the machines.

Southwest, BWI's main carrier, will staff two machines; United Airlines, one; and Delta Air Lines, Continental and Northwest Airlines will share one. 

US Airways, American Airlines and TWA already share the use of one CTX 5500, a similar explosive detection system manufactured by InVision Technologies Inc. These airlines will continue to use the old machine after the new machines are in place, said Miller. 

Baggage checked by passengers will be selected at random to pass through the new machines. Eventually, the airlines will use the machines to check every passenger's bag, said Miller. 

"Certainly a lot more is coming. Right now the machines are too slow," she said.

FAA officials would not say why BWI was chosen to receive the eXaminer 3DX 6000s or whether they were looking to bring more machines to other East Coast airports.

Copyright 2001 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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