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‘Enhanced security measures’ overseas have opened new markets among U.S. and foreign airlines

Mark Laustra (left)

Thanks to the thwarted “underwear bomber” last Christmas and the “enhanced security measures” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced last April for all US-bound flights departing from overseas airports, a brisk new market has opened up for whole body scanners, explosive detection devices and canine teams.

U.S. and foreign air carriers whose planes are destined for a U.S. airport are now required to provide additional, “random” layers of security in the gate areas where their U.S.-bound passengers sit and wait, prior to boarding their international flights.

Napolitano was somewhat vague in a press release issued on April 2, 2010, when she announced that additional measures would be implemented overseas. “Passengers traveling to the United States from international destinations may notice enhanced security and random screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process,” Napolitano said at that time, “including the use of explosive trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, or pat-downs, among other security measures.”

In fact, such measures have now been put in place by the domestic and foreign airlines that fly to the United States. However, there is a unique twist with this relatively new initiative. Unlike in the United States, where the Transportation Security Administration takes responsibility for purchasing the screening equipment and operating the security checkpoints at U.S. airports, these new “enhancements” at foreign airports have become the responsibility of the airlines themselves. If screening equipment needs to be acquired, the airlines must bear the cost. If explosive trace detection devices or whole body scanners are to be utilized, the airlines’ own personnel – or security personnel they hire – must operate the screening equipment. That all costs money.

TSA is not eager to add much detail to this rather vague picture of the enhanced security efforts being implemented overseas. Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman told GSN on September 15 that his agency isn’t providing much information beyond last April’s announcement. However, Soule did indicate that some of the permissible security measures – such as physical pat-downs – don’t need to cost the airlines a lot of money.

Smiths Detection, one manufacturer, among many, that stands to gain from this recently expanded marketplace overseas, stopped by GSN’s headquarters on September 15 to show off its portable Multi-Mode Threat Detector (MMTD), a handheld explosive trace detection (ETD) device which it is now marketing to U.S. and foreign air carriers to help them meet their newly-added security responsibilities. The MMTD weighs about 11 pounds, can be carried from one airport gate to another, can use two different sampling methods – “particle mode” and “vapor mode” – and costs about $45,000 per device.

Smiths Detection also offers a desk-mounted explosive trace detection device, known as the IONSCAN 500DT, but Mark Laustra, the company’s vice president and general manager, acknowledges that the handheld unit has thus far been selling more briskly.

Because TSA has given the airlines the latitude to determine precisely how they will add these required extra layers of security, a hot competition has broken out between suppliers of ETD equipment, whole body scanners (which TSA calls Advanced Imaging Technology) and explosive-sniffing canine teams. Airlines are also allowed to provide heightened security for U.S.-bound passengers by employing more extensive pat-down searches, but various recent customer surveys seem to indicate that such physical pat-downs are not very popular with the traveling public.

Laustra admitted to being biased toward Smiths Detection’s own products, but nonetheless said his company’s devices offer the most “pros” and the least “cons” among the available options. Laustra said whole body scanners work well, but occupy a rather large “footprint” on an airport’s floor. Canine teams require “multiple dogs and multiple handlers,” he pointed out, “plus they don’t last long.” And pat-down searches, said Laustra, “are very intrusive, especially in areas where bombs can be hidden.” No doubt, suppliers of canine teams and whole body scanners might see things differently.

Estimating the potential size of this new overseas market for scanning gear is not an easy task, Laustra explained, because a number of variables are in play. In the U.S., for example, Smiths Detection knows there are about 2,300 checkpoint lanes at U.S. airports that require certain mandated equipment. Overseas, however, the exact number of U.S.-bound flights, the number of individual air carriers, the choices the carriers make among the different screening methodologies, and the security philosophies implemented by various foreign governments, makes it much harder to get a handle on the overall size of the potential market.

And those aren’t the only uncertainties. The TSA security directives that place these new burdens upon U.S. and foreign airlines are considered “sensitive security information,” TSA’s Soule told GSN, so they have not been publicly released.


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