Only 12 of U.S. 451 airports have conveyor belts to move baggage from check-in to EDS

Published 6 March 2006

Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. does not have conveyor-belt systems in place to move bags from check-in counters to explosives screening devices. Dulles is not alone. Only twelve of the nation’s 451 airports have in-line screening systems which use conveyor belts. At unequipped airports, screeners themselves move bags to be screened, risking back or other injuries. Indeed, TSA workers are at greater risk of injury than those at any other federal agency. More than 29 percent of TSA employees reported injuries or illnesses in 2004, compared with the government-wide average of 5 percent.

Many airports also do not have efficient screening devices. Randy Null, TSA’s assistant administrator for operational process and technology, said that 448 airports have 6,500 trace detection devices which can swab about forty bags each hour and chemically test them for explosives. More than 100 airports have 1,500 X-ray devices, called explosives detection systems (EDS), which are larger and can process as many as 180 bags per hour. In-line screening systems, on the other hand, can screen 450 per hour.

Back to Washington, D.C.: The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is spending $8 million to design in-line systems at Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but needs $308 million more. TSA picks up the bill for procuring and installing the system and pays for 75 percent of the costs to modify airport facilities.