If a harmless hairdryer in your checked luggage looks nefarious on an airport X-ray inspection, a Transportation Security Administration agent may open the bag for a closer look. The delay could prevent your hairdryer — and everything with it — from making it on your flight.
A fleet of next-generation baggage scanners coming to Miami International Airport is expected to reduce the likelihood of that scenario, speeding up the screening process and cutting down on the number of mishandled bags and false alarms.
A $101 million TSA grant — the second-largest amount the agency has given to a U.S. airport — will provide the bulk of funding for a five-year project that airport and county officials announced Friday.
“This is a big game-changer for us,” said Ken Pyatt, deputy director of the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department. “Getting rid of old equipment and replacing it with all-new, state-of-the-art technology really shows our commitment to keeping up with the times and giving travelers the best possible experience at Miami International Airport.”
Part of the money will pay for 12 explosive-detection machines that use similar technology as hospital CT scanners. The new CTX 9800 DSi machines capture 3-D snapshots of each bag and use a series of algorithms to compare the contents with known threats.
Agents can “virtually turn the contents of the bag, looking underneath or at slices of specific objects,” Pyatt said. That technology should cut back on the number of bags that have to be inspected by hand.
Each capable of scanning about 800 bags an hour, the 12 high-speed machines will greatly improve security-screening efficiency in the airport’s Central and South terminals (concourses E, F, G, H and J), he said.
The new equipment will be located out of sight of travelers, replacing the bulky machines that take up space near airline ticket counters.
“Those baggage screeners in the terminal lobbies go back to post-9/11, when the TSA was formed and when [the machines] were meant to be a temporary fix,” Pyatt said. “To me, this change to a fully inline system is symbolic of us moving out of that era.”
The project also includes construction of a building between concourses G and H, allowing passengers to connect between the two without having to re-clear security. Architectural plans are being drawn, and Pyatt said travelers will not be disrupted when work begins in about a year.
“Everything will be done on the secure side of the airport, so this won’t adversely affect travelers,” he said. “We hope the only thing they’ll notice is that one day soon they’ll come in and say, ‘Hey, there are no more X-ray machines on the floor.’”
The improvements come after last year’s completion of a $220 million overhaul to the baggage-handling system in the airport’s North Terminal. Part of a $3 billion, 11-year project on that terminal, the automated baggage system has been running since March 2012, carrying about 35,000 bags a day along 14 miles of conveyor belts.
The North Terminal baggage system includes 22 CTX 9400 DSi machines, but the newly announced project will be the airport’s first 9800-generation scanners.
“The value and scope of this grant is a testament to the high confidence TSA has in our partnership with Miami-Dade Aviation Department,” said Mark Hatfield Jr., the administration’s federal security director at Miami International. “This project will have a profound impact on the longterm health and vitality of the airport, and, consequently, the entire Miami region will benefit as well.”