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Rethinking Checked-Baggage

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Publication Date: July 2002

Publisher(s): Reason Foundation

Author(s): Viggo Butler; Robert W. Jr. Poole

Topic: Transportation (Air transport)

Type: Report


Current law mandates that all checked bags at 429 passenger airports be screened by explosive detection systems (EDS) or alternative means by December 31, 2002. Because it will not be possible for manufacturers to produce the number of EDS machines required by that date, nor for airports to design and build the major facility modifications that would be needed, the Transportation Security Administration has called for an interim approach using a combination of EDS and explosive trace detection (ETD) machines.

Both the original mandate and this interim approach to meeting it are seriously flawed. EDS is a flawed technology. Its error rate (false-positives) is nearly 30 percent, and its throughput is a low 150-200 bags per hour under real-world conditions.

Congress should revisit the baggage-inspection issue, drawing on the experience of Europe and Israel, which have many years of experience in dealing with terrorist threats to aviation. Congress should also mandate a shift of focus in baggage and passenger inspection, making the detection of high-risk people the guiding principle.