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TSA Hopes to RFID-enable 60 Security Lanes This Year

American Airlines will fund the new screening lanes at four airports; the Transportation Security Administration is in talks with other airlines regarding similar deployments.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 18, 2016

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) intends to expand its deployment of RFID-enabled baggage-screening technology to 60 lanes at U.S. airports by the end of this year. The TSA, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, has been using RFID during a pilot being carried out at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport since the end of May 2016 (see TSA Installs RFID-enabled Screening System at Atlanta Airport to Cut Wait Times). The technology has proven to increase passenger-screening efficiency by 30 percent, the agency reports, and it is thus in the process of working with several airlines to install the solution at multiple airports.

For the first of those projects, scheduled to be completed in the fall of this year, the TSA will work with American Airlines to install the technology at the Chicago O'Hare International, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles International and Miami International airports. Robert Isom, American Airlines' COO, sent a letter to his company's employees indicating that the airline is spending $5 million to enhance the screening technology at the American Airlines hubs. "Automated screening lanes are pretty new to U.S. airports," he wrote, "and incorporate the latest technology so that things done manually today can be done electronically tomorrow."

The TSA's Mark Howell
The RFID-based system consists of automated conveyor belts that transport passengers' bags to X-ray machines, automatically diverting any that require additional scrutiny so they can be manually searched by TSA personnel. The passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags attached to each bin enable this process by transmitting data to interrogators installed at multiple locations along the belts, explains Mark Howell, a TSA regional spokesperson.

In May, the TSA and Delta Airlines installed two RFID-enabled screening lanes at the Atlanta airport. The bins come with UHF RFID tags attached to them, each with a unique ID number. An RFID reader at the entrance to the X-ray machines enables that bin's ID to be linked to a picture automatically taken of the bin's contents.

If the system or screening personnel spot a suspicious-looking item within the bin, it is rerouted to an area for manual screening. Another RFID reader captures that event, thereby triggering the system to display the picture of the bin's contents on the screen, so that it can be compared against the X-ray image before the staff begins searching the contents. TSA personnel can also use a handheld RFID reader to pull up the bin and X-ray images, so that they can be sure they are searching the correct bin. (With the manual method, employees need to be told what they are searching for, and they typically do not have the X-ray in front of them while conducting searches.)

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