Boston Logan Blazes the Full-Body Scanner Trail

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Boston Logan International Airport was among the first airports in the country to use advanced imaging technology (AIT) for passenger screening. In April, it began deploying 17 full-body scanners throughout the airport. Four more will be added in Terminal C, when its $55 million renovation is complete, reports Edward C. Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport).

The AIT units, manufactured by Rapiscan, screen passengers for metallic and nonmetallic threats such as weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing. The compelling point of difference they provide is a lack of physical contact between passengers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.

After removing everything from their pockets, passengers are directed to walk into an imaging portal. Once inside, passengers are asked to stand still with their arms bent up at the elbows for a few seconds while the scanner captures a real-time image of them. A TSA officer located in a remote viewing room reviews the images for suspicious materials. After review and resolution of anomalies, each image is immediately deleted. According to TSA, the process typically takes less than one minute.

Having partnered with TSA in other pilot programs, Boston Logan was quick to "step forward" for AIT equipment. Massport assured TSA that the airport was ready to work on the program; it would install the new screening units as soon they were shipped. "When we knew that these would be deployed, we wanted to be the first to have it installed," recalls Freni.

Facts & Figures

Project: Full-Body Scanner Installation

Location: Boston Logan International Airport

Equipment Manufacturer: Rapiscan

Estimated Scanning Time: 1 min.

TSA Plan: Deploy 450 units at various airports by year-end; 500 additional units in 2011.

Benefits: Lack of physical contact between passengers and TSA officers

By year-end, TSA plans to place 450 imaging technology units in service at airports throughout the country. By the end of July, it had already deployed 142 - on track with scheduled deployment goals, reports TSA spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz. A 2011 deployment schedule is in the works for an additional 500 units that have already been funded.

George Naccara, TSA's federal security director (FSD) at Boston Logan, says there were many reasons why TSA headquarters chose Boston Logan to be first. "It probably revolved around the partnership that we have with the Massachusetts Port Authority and the state police here, and the willingness for the airport to so strongly support the concept of AITs."

With an estimated 50,000 throughputs each day, Boston Logan wasn't a long shot.

Massport's capital programs engineers worked with TSA to determine the best design and placement of the machines and viewing rooms for the airport's 11 checkpoints.

Opting In

While advanced imaging technology isn't a required screening method, it is a popular one. More than 98% of passengers at airports with the option choose AIT screening over other procedures, reports Horowitz. Numerous polls also demonstrate strong public support and understanding of the need for imaging technology.

Proper planning played a critical role in the deployment at Boston Logan, Freni notes. While the airport had the luxury of designing AIT units into its Terminal C project, it also allowed for changes in technology and TSA regulations. "You may have to even get the new generation of technology that may require new installations," Freni cautions. "You have to keep that in mind. You can't box yourself in. When we plan any new checkpoints, we make sure we're planning them with this type of technology and also flexibility in case we have to adjust it."

TSA's original layout for AIT equipment at Boston Logan reduced its number of X-ray machines, but the airport worked with TSA to avoid eliminating any X-ray lanes, Freni notes.

Other preparation included ensuring the floor could handle the weight of the machines. Fortunately, floor work was performed when new X-ray machines were installed, so none had to be reinforced to accommodate the new AIT equipment. Units were installed in the evening and early morning, when checkpoints were closed, to avoid disrupting operations.

The private screening rooms where TSA workers analyze the AIT images were carefully placed throughout the terminals so they do not sacrifice retail space or interfere with traffic flow, relates Freni.

Privacy Safeguards

Passengers wary of full-body scanners may be reassured by the following TSA procedures and guidelines:

• All images generated by AIT machines are viewed in walled-off locations not visible to the public.

• Officers assisting passengers cannot view their images and officers viewing images cannot see the passengers.

• Full-body scanners cannot store, export, print or transmit images and have privacy features that blur all images.

• Images are automatically deleted from the system after they are reviewed.

• Cameras, cellular telephones or other devices capable of capturing images are not permitted in image viewing rooms.

Making It Work

The key to using the new technology, advises Freni, is encouraging passengers to divest before stepping into the imaging portal. "That helps with the throughput," he explains. "I've been told by the TSA that they are pretty much matching the throughput in the AITs that they were doing in the magnetometers."

Signage throughout the airport helps acquaint and familiarize passengers with the AIT process. Announcing the availability of the new screening technology and explaining exactly how it works helped, too, recalls Freni. During media interviews, he chose to be proactive about potential privacy concerns and stressed the technology's safety and security benefits.

TSA makes additional efforts to educate the traveling public about the importance of imaging technology, privacy protections already in place and the overall safety of the technology, notes Horowitz. In addition to national press conferences during the pilot phase of the program, it conducts passenger education events at every airport that receives the technology. Signs informing passengers about the technology, including safety and privacy features, are provided at security checkpoints, and information is also available on TSA's website and blog. (See sidebar on page 12 for examples.)

TSA is also developing new imaging technology that replaces a passenger's actual body image with a stick or paper doll figure - a change Freni says Boston Logan would advocate. "We're really interested in technology that can zero in on any anomaly that exists and takes the privacy issue right off the table. I think that's really important."

Beta Spotlight

Boston Logan draws numerous visitors in its capacity as a model for AIT installations at airports throughout the country. By July, Naccara estimates his team had helped about 24 other airports with their own AIT installations. "A lot of airports have come to visit our machinery, to see the operation, to see the training process, to understand the staffing demands, the requirements for the imaging rooms and the private screen," he notes.

"We'll continue to open our doors to let them view and see how it works," Freni adds.

TSA headquarters personnel have also spent time at Boston Logan collecting data such as throughput capacity, anomalies per passenger and AIT's effect on the overall checkpoint process. "That has helped to identify for our headquarters what we should expect as a throughput in the TSA of the future as more of the machines are rolled out and used in combination with our walk-through metal detectors," Naccara explains. "It is great information, and it could not have been accomplished in a lab environment; it had to be assessed and analyzed at an actual airport operation."

Naccara has prepared a "critical path" document to inform other FSDs about what to accomplish before receiving AIT equipment. Communication with airport leadership and all other stakeholders, he notes, helps identify the needs of TSA as well as the airport. "You have to talk about the different ways that each of the stakeholders in the airport environment will have to contribute to success ... to understand how this will impact each of them," he advises.

Sharing information about challenges - from technical or engineering aspects to hiring and training personnel - has been very helpful for other airports, Naccara notes.


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