Labor Day Weekend Las Vegas Airport conducted a quiet roll out of the newest TSA Technology with United Airlines and LAS Airport being the launch customer for North America. It is being touted in the media as “Innovation Check Point” which will utilize a new modernized version of the previous body scanners. An enhanced Advanced Imaging Technology (eAIT) body scanner, which uses millimeter wave technology, is in place to screen travelers. The open design, flat panel unit allows travelers to have a more relaxed stance with arms at the side during the scan instead of over the head. Computed Tomography will now be used to screen passengers’ carry-on luggage. The CT technology applies sophisticated algorithms for the detection of explosives and other threats to commercial aviation by creating a 3-D image, which can be rotated on three axes for a thorough visual image analysis by a TSA X-ray operator. The technology is similar to CT technology used in the medical field.
AIT screening is optional for all passengers. Passengers who do not wish to utilize this screening technology will receive alternative screening, including a physical pat-down.
Two different systems of AIT are deployed in airports across the nation: millimeter wave and backscatter x- ray.
Millimeter wave AIT uses non-ionizing radio frequency energy in the millimeter wave spectrum to generate a three-dimensional image of the body based on the energy reflected from the body. The image, which resembles a fuzzy photo negative with facial features blurred for privacy, is displayed on a remote monitor for analysis to determine whether potential threats are present. The energy projected by millimeter wave technology is thousands of times less than a cell phone transmission.
Backscatter AIT uses a narrow, low-energy x-ray beam that scans the surface of the body at a high speed. The machine then generates an image resembling a chalk etching with a privacy filter applied to the entire body. The image is displayed on a remote monitor for analysis to determine whether objects are present.
The European Union issued a ruling during Nov 2011 that bans X-ray body scanners in all European airports. According to the European Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the ruling across the EU’s 27 member nations, the prohibition is necessary “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”X-ray body scanners, which use “backscatter” ionized radiation technology, emit enough radiation to theoretically damage DNA and cause cancer. However, FDA disputes these reports and assures us the technology is harmless. If this sounds familiar then this is what RJ Reynolds also said about Nicotine in the 50s and what Boeing and Airbus still state today in regards to aircraft cabin air quality on bleed air aircraft.
We each have to make our own decisions and decide who we trust and what research is acceptable for ourselves as crew members and our families when we travel. Yet, how can anyone say that this technology is safe when it is new and there is no data showing the long term effects? This is much like the farmers and landscapers who used Round Up with the Glyphosate pesticide. It all seemed just fine at the time when there was no data. However, 10 to 20 years later after use they all are coming down with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We all know how much we can trust the FDA. Especially, since most of their scientist and regulators have come through the revolving door of the pharmaceutical and chemical industries which they are now in charge of regulating. So there is no conflict of interest there at all. Do not forget that radiation exposure is accumualtive when it comes to damage. If you fly one time a year as a passenger may be very different from someone who walks through one of these devices 10 to 20 days a month. Just some food for thought there.
As a Crew Member I suggest always coming in uniform and use your KCM to avoid these machines whenever possible. If not traveling in uniform or traveling with family members then come early to the airport so you will have time to request the “opt out” more time consuming pat down. I always say better safe than sorry. Do not subject yourselves to being the modern day Flying Guinea Pigs with these new untested and unproven technologies. Do you really want to find out in 10 to 20 years that you or your family are the next big oops, oh we got it wrong. Sorry you ended up with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma since the FDA told us it was perfectly safe at the time. Just like the bleed air cabin air you are breathing is just as clean and safe as that of your home and office. That is what Boeing and Airbus are still saying even today. We all know they would never lie to us or the traveling public. Yeah, right?
Knowledge is Power
Aviation Travel Writer