How Much Do Airport Security Scanners Cost?
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How Much Do Airport Security Scanners Cost?

Oct 12, 2023

A closer look at just how expensive it is to keep our airports safe.

Airport security is an integral part of every passenger's travel experience, so much so that we deliberately plan on arriving at the airport two to three hours in advance so that we can be appropriately vetted. We then proceed to wait in atrociously long lines, take off our belts, shoes, and any other outer layers that we may be wearing, and finally pass through the full-body scanner to the secure side of the airport. It's only natural to ask the question: how much does this entire setup cost? Let's take a closer look at the different types of airport security scanners and find out.

There are five different scanning methods that are commonly used at airports today: magnetic imaging, x-ray imaging, puffer machines, magnetometers, and swabbing.

Magnetic imaging uses millimeter wave radiation to create three-dimensional images of travelers. Scanners built using this technology are able to catch metal and non-metal weapons alike on a person's body; however, they do not detect the chemical signature of explosives. The cost of millimeter wave scanners ranges between $150,000 and $200,000 per unit.

X-ray imaging uses (you guessed it!) x-ray radiation to create two-dimensional images of travelers and identify any hidden weapons that they may be carrying. Just like magnetic imaging, this technology does not reveal anything below the surface of the skin and, therefore, cannot be used to recognize contraband inside a person's body. Scanners built using this technology cost $190,000 per unit for the body-scanning kind and $35,000 to $45,000 for the baggage-checking type.

Puffer machines distinguish themselves from millimeter wave scanners and x-ray machines by blowing air onto passengers to displace any potential residue from explosives, which can then be picked up by the scanner. Such machines cost $160,000 per unit but are considerably more expensive to maintain due to being extremely fragile and prone to breakage. Even something as simple as exposure to dirt or humidity can break a puffer machine.

Magnetometers, or metal detectors, can be used to detect any sort of metal object (like a weapon) on a person. They do not work on ceramic or plastic items, and although they are relatively affordable to purchase, labor costs associated with their operation can make them more expensive.

Swabbing involves the usage of a handheld trace detector on a person's hands and luggage to test for traces of explosives. A sample is taken by the handheld device and then inspected by a machine that identifies any substances of concern.

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In recent years, a new kind of airport security scanner based on an application of CT scanning technology has gained traction. These machines, which have typically been reserved for application in the medical field, are similar to millimeter wave scanners in that they create a three-dimensional image of the subject being scanned, which can be easily manipulated and analyzed by airport security staff. Where they differ is in their ability to scan laptops, tablets, and liquids while they are still in the bag. Furthermore, machine learning-based computer algorithms allow the machines to automatically recognize explosives by their unique densities and increase the number of passengers whose baggage can be processed in a given time. Unfortunately, these devices start at $300,000, so it will be some time before most airports are able to adopt them.

The United States Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Administrator David Peskoke said,

"We feel that CT technology will enable us to become much more effective at the checkpoints, and when fully implemented, much more efficient at the checkpoints as well"

What is your preferred scanning method at the airport? Would you support replacing it with a CT scanner? Let us know in the comment section.

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Sources: Fox News, USA Today, WIRED

Journalist - A computer science major at UCLA, Nabeel joins the Simple Flying team with a passion for engineering and travel. He is particularly interested in the technical side of aviation. Based in California, United States

SIMPLEFLYING VIDEO OF THE DAY SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT What is your preferred scanning method at the airport? Would you support replacing it with a CT scanner? Let us know in the comment section.