FAA, Customs testing drug sniffer
- By Dan Verton
- Jul 17, 2000
Security officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S.
Customs Service are testing a new document scanner that can detect minute
traces of illicit narcotics on airline passenger boarding passes.
The operational tests of the new system are being conducted at McGhee
Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn. Ion Track Instruments (ITI), Wilmington,
Mass., developed the system, known as the Access Control Monitor, which
also can detect traces of bomb-making material.
"There are no document scanners made by anyone that are actually deployed
to detect narcotics," said Paul Eisenbraun, vice president of sales and
marketing at ITI. "This sys- tem is designed to screen people unobtrusively."
The system, which measures about 4.5 feet high, works like other boarding
pass processing machines already installed at most airports throughout the
Passengers insert their boarding cards into a slot on the machine, and
a device known as an ion track mobility spectrometer scans the document
for chemicals. Powered by commercial Intel Corp. Pentium microprocessors,
each scan takes 20 milliseconds to complete. With the flick of a switch,
operators can scan for traces of narcotics or explosive materials and view
detailed results on an LCD monitor.
The FAA could not be reached for comment.
The tests are being conducted as part of the FAA's Safe Skies Alliance,
which is designed to be a test bed for new airport security technologies.
In 1997, the FAA spent more than $12 million on trace- detection security
equipment for use at the nation's busiest airports.
Systems purchased by the FAA under previous contracts included explosives
scanning devices that require operators to first wipe the surface of material
with a filter and then scan the filter.
The Access Control Monitor system enables operators to accomplish both
explosives and narcotics scanning almost simultaneously.