Airport baggage scanners didnít detect explosives: panel


New-generation baggage scanning machines installed at major Indian airports have become a bone of contention between aviation authorities and security agencies with the latter claiming that the scanners failed a test to detect explosives as specified. Aviation authorities and the manufacturers of the machines have, however, rejected those claims and said officials who tested the machines may not have known how to use them correctly.

The scanners ó installed at Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Kochi airports ó were procured in 2010 at a cost of Rs 2 crore per unit and continue to remain in service. They "failed" the tests conducted in July-August 2011, after which security agencies introduced manual verification of images of every bag produced by the scanner about six months ago as an interim measure until the row over the machines' capabilities is resolved.

The scanners are called in-line baggage inspection systems as they scan bags that go into the cargo hold of the aircraft after passengers check in and hand over their luggage to the airline. They use x-ray imaging and "automatic intelligence" to verify the contents of bags and determine whether they include explosives. While the scanners at Mumbai airport were supplied by Rapiscan Systems, the machines at the other six airports were supplied by Smiths Detection, both leading international firms.

During the tests, security sources said that a technological specification committee of officials from the IB, RAW, SPG, NSG, BCAS and the civil aviation ministry passed bags containing 500 gm of six kinds of explosives, including PETN and ammonium nitrate, as well as IEDs through these systems. The scanners did not flag any of these bags as suspicious, the sources said.

Following this, the security agencies asked the manufacturers to fix the scanners or share their software details to help recalibrate them and make them compatible with BCAS specifications. But the manufacturers refused to share such details and blamed the agencies for their poor testing skills, the sources said.

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