The computed tomography (CT) scanner at the main checkpoint at Pittsburgh International Airport, which was installed in October 2020. (TSA)

TSA Rolls Out New Tech to Cope With Increasing Passenger Confidence in the Pandemic Era

Over the last twelve months, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has installed a growing number of technology solutions to ensure checkpoints are as safe and healthy as they are secure.

Most recently, TSA announced that its checkpoint at Buffalo Niagara International Airport is now using new technology that confirms the validity of a traveler’s identification (ID) and confirms their flight information in near real time.

“The new credential authentication technology (CAT) that we are now using at Buffalo enhances detection capabilities for identifying fraudulent IDs such as driver’s licenses and passports at checkpoints and increases efficiency by automatically verifying passenger identification,” said Bart R. Johnson TSA’s Federal Security Director for Upstate New York.

Each CAT unit consists of the passport reader, an ID card reader, a Federal personal identity verification ID card reader, a monitor, a stand and a UV light. Passengers should approach the travel document checking station at the checkpoint and hand their ID to the TSA officer who will insert it in the scanner for authentication. Passengers will not have to hand over their boarding pass (electronic or paper), thus reducing a touchpoint. The CAT unit will verify that the traveler is prescreened to travel out of the airport for a flight that day; however, a boarding pass may be requested for travelers under the age of 18 and/or those with ID issues.

CAT units authenticate several thousand types of IDs including passports, military common access cards, retired military ID cards, Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler ID cards, uniformed services ID cards, permanent resident cards, U.S. visas and driver’s licenses and photo IDs issued by state motor vehicle departments. Even with TSA’s use of CAT, travelers still need to check-in with their airline in advance and bring their boarding pass to their gate agent to show the airline representative before boarding their flight.

In addition, it is critical that travelers have their REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses or other acceptable form of identification by the Oct. 1 deadline. The CAT units will not accept a driver’s license after Oct. 1 if it is not REAL ID-compliant.

TSA also recently announced that Spokane International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are using CAT units to handle an increase in travelers over the spring break period and beyond as passenger confidence returns.

Seattle and Spokane are also now using computed tomography (CT) technology at their security checkpoints to screen travelers’ carry-on luggage. The CT scanner applies a sophisticated algorithm during the screening process while an X-ray camera shoots hundreds of images while spinning around the conveyor belt, generating a 3-D image of the item being screened.

The image can be manipulated on screen to allow for a better view of the bag’s contents, allowing a TSA officer to clear the contents of a bag for security threats without having to manually open it for a bag check. Fewer bag checks is beneficial since it reduces physical contact between the traveler and a TSA officer and speeds up the overall screening process. In addition, travelers may leave everything inside their carry-on bag when it is screened through a CT scanner. 

As well as cutting down on touch points, TSA is also assessing new UV cleaning technology to disinfect airport checkpoint bins.

On March 25, TSA said it had screened more than one million people for two straight weeks. On March 24 2021, more than 1.1 million people flew, which is 54% of those who traveled on that day in 2019. But there is a marked improvement and airlines have begun to increase the number of flights they operate both domestically and internationally.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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