Body scanners are headed to 11 major airports

Friday, March 5, 2010 - 12:06pm

WASHINGTON — Eleven major airports will begin using body scanners to screen passengers as the Transportation Security Administration launches a plan to buy 1,000 of the machines over the next two years.
The scanners can look under passengers' clothing in order to detect weapons and explosives.

Boston Logan International Airport received one new scanner this week and will get two more next week. All will go into the same terminal. Among the other airports getting the scanners are Los Angeles International, Chicago O'Hare and Charlotte Douglas International.

The Transportation Security Administration bought 150 scanners in September using $25 million from the federal stimulus package. It plans to buy 300 more this year and 500 next year. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered the installation accelerated after the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt of an airliner over Detroit.

The scanners, made by California-based Rapiscan, are 9 feet long and 6½ feet wide, much larger than metal detectors. Airport screeners view images from the machines in a nearby closed room.

Some airport officials have expressed worry because the scanners are larger and slower than metal detectors. "That's a big concern," Ed Freni, aviation director at Logan airport, said of the slower speed. "We have to monitor it very closely because if it slows things, we're going to have to adjust."

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport operations director Mike Nonnemacher said he learned Tuesday from the TSA that the airport would be getting an unspecified number of the scanners. "We'll do what we have to to make the space available for these machines," Nonnemacher said.

About half of nearly 40 airports that answered a survey last month by the Airports Council International said their security checkpoints are too small to handle the machines, according to Christopher Bidwell, the council's security chief.

The new scanners will bring the total number of airports with the machines to 29. That includes 17 of the nation's 30 largest airports.

Airports with scanners will continue to use metal detectors, both as an alternative for passengers who want to avoid the machines and in checkpoints without the scanners. Passengers who opt to skip a scanner will go through a metal detector and be hand-searched by a screener.

Officials at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport are not worried about the TSA plan, airport spokeswoman Barb Schempf said. The airport recently finished a new checkpoint. "It was constructed in anticipation of this type of equipment being installed," Schempf said. "We're probably in a better position than most."