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Homeland Security

Analysis: Airports on Guard

Council on Foreign Relations

May 25, 2007
Prepared by: Eben Kaplan

Eighty years ago this week, Charles Lindberg completed his famed transatlantic flight in just over thirty-three hours. Seeing how far we’ve come offers little comfort for modern travelers, who continue to blanch at long security lines and increased delays. With summer nearly here, travelers can expect to wait longer than ever: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it expects delays (NYT) this season to surpass last year’s record mark. To help mitigate the growing volume of air traffic, the FAA plans to employ new software (Aero-News) to aid the country’s air traffic controllers.

Airports and aviation officials hold out hope that technological innovation can improve the quality and efficiency of their security screening as well. This summer the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will deploy electronic “sniffers” (USAToday) designed to detect vapors given off by potentially explosive liquids. These will join a gaggle of other gadgets, including the traditional X-rays and metal detectors, as well as the relatively new “puffers” (BusinessWeek), which shoot bursts of air at passengers and analyze the loosed particles for traces of explosives. For baggage screening, the TSA has turned to CAT scanning technology (PDF) similar to that used in hospitals. Other technologies remain in the works: Quadrupole resonance scanners could use radio frequencies to screen baggage for explosives in bulk, while backscatter X-rays, a technology already employed at some checkpoints in Iraq, provides better images than current technology.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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