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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New system of baggage scan at Chennai Airport – the threats and innovations.

Lot more people fly these days and the crowds at Airports resemble those at bus stands.  Many of them are high-profile, high net worth individuals and air travel is associated with a peculiar risk – the risk of hijacking and terrorism.

Way back in Oct 1976, terrorists killed civilians indiscriminately whilst on board Cubana Flight 455 – from Barbados to Jamaica – 73 died.  IC 814 will haunt Indians for long – On Dec 24, 1999 a Pakistan based group hijacked an Indian Airlines Airbus A 300 from Tribhuvan International Airport (Kathmandu, Nepal)  bound for  Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi, India) .   After touching down in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai, the hijackers forced the aircraft to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The hijackers released 27 of 176 passengers in Dubai but fatally stabbed one and wounded several others.  It all happened on a land hostile to India and reportedly Taliban forces were there to prevent storming the aircraft. It lasted for 7 days and in the capital, there were orchestrated demonstrations forcing the Govt to release three dreaded militants -  Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar.

Thousands fly every day and in the short duration, it is very difficult for the Airport security to do a thorough check up of all.   There are countries where security is uppermost concern and everyone is subjected to body frisking.  In our country, every one will try to force their way displaying political and other clouts.  The high concentration and the potential high death rate makes airport and aircrafts and the people flying – sitting targets. 

In the initial days, simple box cutters and small arms were enough to threaten and take custody of the air craft.  There are also dangerous items which can escape the security drill.  As you would have observed, security is generally two part.  The baggage or the cargo that is entrusted to the airliner, is scanned through a machine.  In India, this is done by the CISF.  The closed luggage passes through the scanner machine under the watchful eyes of security.  Upon suspicion, the passenger might be asked to open and exhibit all its contents.  Then a security stamp is put on the bag which would taken by the airline concerned for carriage to the destination.  This baggage will be on the cargo hold and the passenger will not have access to the bag after it is handed over till the destination. 

The other part is the physical check – the body frisking which would include the hand held luggage of bags.  Airlines and Airports would prohibit carriage of arms, ammunition, explosives, knives, weapons, batteries, liquids  and dangerous goods – even gels, aerosols, lotions etc., beyond a specified quantity will not be allowed.  Again any liquid will have to be in transparent re-sealable plastic bags.

This is accompanied baggage.  In addition to the personal baggage planes do carry heavy loads of cargo – these also will be subjected to check up before they are loaded on to the plane.    In advanced airports, there could be fixed site systems where there is huge x ray scanner which can scan a tractor load of cargo.  Generally, there would be small fixed systems, which scans bags individually and since it is done one bag at a time, there would be delay, especially when there is departure of more no. of planes – heavy traffic times.  In the earlier days, bomb detection was by use of trained sniffer dogs. 

There is news that a new system to scan baggage at the international terminal of Chennai airport was introduced this Monday (30th May 2011).  Going by the reports, now the passengers can proceed straight to the check-in counters and deposit their baggage. No prior screening of baggage before check-in is required, states an official release here.
This is the second inline X-ray baggage system being commissioned in Airports Authority of India (AAI)-operated airports. The system was first introduced at the Ahmedabad airport.  The new facility at the Chennai airport has two in-line X-ray machines. Each line can handle 1,200 bags per hour. Both lines will work in the redundancy mode. The new equipment has four levels of scanning. Six work stations have been provided to a certified screener and one workstation to the supervisor. The equipment  reportedly costs  Rs.12 crore.  This would sure eliminate the long winding queue.  This equipment reportedly was imported from Netherlands nearly two years ago but was lying idle for so long. 

This is modernisation as far as luggage is concerned – body scanners are there only in some modern ports – there also there is criticism of its usage, as the full body scanner would create an image of a person’s nude body  through their clothing to look for hidden objects without physically removing their clothes or making physical contact. This has caused unease among human rights campaigners who fear an invasion of passengers' privacy.  Full-body scanners use different systems, but there are two main competing technologies: Backscatter x-ray and millimeter-wave.

More we depend on the systems, there would also be the worry of ‘what happens when they malfunction’ ?  Here is one circulated widely on the net attributed to Isrealis though no such thing exists. 

The news in circulation states that Israel has invented a great  alternative to body scanners at airports ; it is an airport security device that eliminates the privacy concerns that come with full-body scanners at the airports.  It is not a machine but an armoured booth.  It will not x-ray or image the person but will simply  detonate any explosive device hidden on any person.  It is claimed as  a win-win situation for everyone, with none of this nonsense about racial profiling.  Besides instilling fear, it would also  eliminate the costs of a long and expensive trial. Justice would be swift. Case closed!  You're in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter an announcement comes over the PA system:
"Attention standby passengers. We now have a seat available on flight number XXXX. !"

Figment of imagination but makes an interesting read – is it not !!

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

7 comments:

  1. Dear Sir,

    Need a clarification. You mentioned"The new equipment has four levels of scanning". Is that means 4 different angles of scanning (like top, bottom, side) or what?

    Regards,
    Sivasankar.R

    ReplyDelete
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