Security Up in the Air

April 1, 2003
Airline passengers aren?t the only "cargo" undergoing increased scrutiny because of new security regulations. There's an array of regulations and mandates that will affect warehouses and distribution centers handling material that moves to and from variou

One good outcome of all the security measures going into place at airports and other ports is that you will probably never lose your luggage again. It will be tracked and traced throughout its journey with or to you. It’s a sad comment that security rather than customer service is the motivator, but at least, while you travel, you’ll know where your luggage is.

Security concerns are requiring a new layer of visibility in the global supply chain. To address this need, the U.S. Government mandated security checks in these areas at airports: baggage, passengers, cargo and mail. "Airports are actively working on the first two," says Jeff Gavenas, operations manager, airport cargo and security at Siemens Dematic. "Deadlines for these areas were the last day of last year. But no dates have been set on when cargo and mail efforts must be finished."

"It's a tough balance between commercial concerns and security concerns," adds Chris Corrado, vice president, customer services, APL Logistics. "How do you balance both to keep freight moving as quickly as possible while making sure no one allows something to happen?"

There are several challenges to all of these areas. One is that while most airports met last year's deadline, the solutions are less than optimal. If you've traveled, you've seen large explosive detection systems (EDS) and hold baggage-screening systems located in check-in lobbies. The final goal is to move these to a location "behind the wall" away from public access.

Another challenge for airports, as well as other ports, is implementing security procedures that won't disrupt operations to the point of creating unhappy customers and excessive time delays. "With baggage screening, for example," continues Gavenas, "we had a mandate that customers couldn’t wait more than 10 minutes." Similar issues concern air-freight cargo.

And yet a third challenge is cost. How is the cost of all of these security systems shared among the government, customers and port facilities? Presently, that issue is still under debate.

Pilot programs

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has final authority over any processes and procedures involving passengers and baggage. They are monitoring several pilot programs that involve RFID and bar code technology, computer profiling, "AI" software baggage screening, reconciliation, in-line systems and airport vehicle tracking to determine the best processes.

• Coding. RFID has promise because of its high read rates and the ability to track a load throughout its journey. These features are needed in baggage handling. TSA is experimenting with several pilot projects.

"We're running a test where 50 percent of an airport is using a disposable tag and 50 percent is using a reusable tag," says Philip Heacock, sales manager of controls and integration, FKI Logistics. "The reusable tag is removed before the luggage is loaded onto a plane and is taken back to the ticket counter for reuse. Airports are trying to determine which type of tag makes the most sense economically and functionally. Reusable tags are about $2, with disposable tags running about 60 cents."

"At Love Field in Dallas, we’re putting RFID tags on baggage," says John Shoemaker, vice president, Matrics. "There are several programs going on in Manchester, New Hampshire and in Minneapolis. We’ve been working with an airline in Atlanta and on a pilot in San Francisco.

"Most of the pilot programs have been focused on putting a tag on a bag to sort it through the EDS machines," continues Shoemaker. "We put a transponder into an existing barcode bag tag. The printed bar code label comes out of the printer and we join the inlay to it, so we’re combining RFID with bar code.

"Adding our system to an existing system is an easy way to go. The bar code systems are already in place. However, bar codes provide read accuracy percentages in the mid-70s to mid-80s, which are not acceptable for high-volume sortation and explosive detection and screening. Airports need an overall read accuracy in the high 90 percentile ranges. In the tests airports have been running so far with RFID, they've been getting 98 and 99 percent ranges."

Smart tagging of some type will likely be used throughout an airport. Smart luggage tags can be read from great distances. Smart boarding passes can be read at strategic locations throughout an airport.

One note on tagging; Recent news reports exposed the vulnerability of wireless curb-side bag tagging and check-in operations at some airports. Because the wireless communication systems did not use encryption, hackers would be able to easily break into the networks and change tag codes altering the destinations of those bags. Such surreptitious altering of destinations poses a security threat.

• Profiling and reconciliation. The government mandates that there must be a 100 percent match of luggage and passengers. This level hasn't been achieved yet, but TSA is working on it. Such reconciliation will ensure that a passenger boards the same plane as his luggage and reaches his destination.

Part of this process involves passenger profiling. TSA would like a system that will alert agents to passengers whose luggage may need more thorough screening. To this end, TSA is exploring a methodology known as computer aided passenger profiling (CAPP). This software profiles passengers who are likely candidates for more intensive screening. "At Jacksonville airport, for example," says Heacock, "the computer selects a passenger. An RFID chip is attached to his check-in luggage so that when it travels through the baggage handling system, it will be diverted to a TSA security checking room for a more rigorous search. The person may never know their luggage was selected because the RFID chips make sure the search is done while the luggage travels through the baggage handling system before it's loaded on a plane."

Some of these software systems use a CAT-scan type of topography or density analysis to determine if the luggage contains explosives or other threatening devices.

"About 80 percent of the bags can go through a software rather than a visual screening," says Don Anderson, director of Airport Systems Sales at FKI Logistics. "Luggage follows the 80/20 rule. The other 20 percent the software can divert to a person for a decision. Then, if the security officer can't determine visually what an object is, he can do a physical search."

But one of the goals of TSA is to reduce the labor required to screen luggage. "The EDS vendors are working hard to develop software that can automate the recognition process," adds Gavenas, "however, this technical development is a ways away."

• Installation change. According to Anderson, the lobby machines are a phase-one step. And it took quite an effort to finish installation by last year’s deadline.

One of the contractors, Siemens, had to install 796 screening machines in 3.5 weeks at different airports. To handle this time challenge, Gavenas and others moved away from the conventional command and control structure typical for managing large projects. "What we did," says Gavenas, "was pick the best and brightest project management people, put them as far down on the front lines as possible, gave them some authority, and let them make quick decisions. We used the 80/20 rule. If you’re 80 percent sure of a decision, go with it. If you miss the mark, we'll come back and re-work it. But there’s just no time to second guess in a project of that scope."

Phase two will be to remove the lobby machines and install them, or more automated systems, in the baggage divert area in the belly of airports. As mentioned above, the lobby machines are labor intensive to operate. Plus, they're in the open, where anyone can watch procedures and find vulnerabilities. Thus, TSA is looking to move to automated, "in-line" systems, which will reduce labor costs. The implementation will be difficult, though, because airport facilities will require construction modifications.

When phase two will take place is a question — a financial one. The costs will be quite high to physically alter airports and baggage handling processes to accommodate in-line scanning equipment. Exactly who will pay is being debated.

A few airports, though, were able to install in-line systems before last year's deadline. Boston’s Logan, for example, built screening areas outside many of its ramps. Construction "snipped" into outbound conveyor lines, diverting bags to the screening area, where they are now checked. Then the bags are sent back to their particular conveyor line for loading onto a plane.

Other pieces of equipment within airport facilities will need modification too. For example, many of the on-demand printers at ticket counters may need to be modified to handle embedded RFID technology.

• Load particulars. As a load, baggage offers a few challenges that must be conquered to obtain high productivity. According to Siemens, you need to maintain positive control over the bag. "This unit load is a bit more difficult to handle than a dimensionally stable plastic container found in DCs and warehouses," says Gavenas. "The bags come in all shapes and sizes."

Thus, there will be a few differences over previous conveyance systems. One difference is the need for greater discrete control on the unit loads. For example, bags must be positioned uniformly, perhaps justified along the edges. They need to be centered and the metering controlled. Therefore, there may be several queuing segments. Instead of having 100 feet of straight conveyor, you may need ten individual queuing sections in front of a scanning machine. The machine may control the induction timing.

"The technology is there," says Gavenas. "It's nothing new. It's just an application where that kind of control has not been necessary before. The part of the process that is not there yet is the custom interface to each machine to handle the bags as they move through the screening process. Resolving this problem will just take a little time. But from a technical perspective, it’s not anything new."

Vehicle tracking

Another area of movement tracking involves the vehicles that service planes and that bring cargo and luggage to planes. Many of these vehicles are now being fitted into ground management transportation systems (GMTS) that use RFID. The RF tags are placed on the windshields of busses, vans, and taxis. The system then tracks the vehicles as they go on and off airport roads. In some cases, airports charge fees for the tags, which then becomes a revenue source for the airport.

At Newark Airport, for example, ID Systems is installing a vehicle security system called Wireless Asset Net. Its purpose is to secure mobile equipment that service aircraft.

The Net is a multi-faceted hardware and software communications system. Anyone who wishes to operate a vehicle must first interface with an intelligent vehicle identification device, such as a smart card or fingerprint scanner. An operator will only be able to start a vehicle if he is authorized for that particular vehicle, in that particular area of the airport, at that particular time of day. The FAA won’t reveal other features of the system for security reasons. A similar system is also scheduled for deployment at San Francisco Airport.

TransCore also offers a ground transportation management system. Its RFID-based system has been used since 1989 for control over vehicular activities.

On to cargo

Most security efforts have focused on baggage. "This area has a lot of visibility and airports had existing equipment invented prior to 9/11 that can do a decent job of securing luggage," says Mike Brigham, vice president, airport cargo and security, Siemens Dematic. "TSA, though, is starting to look at systems for cargo and parcels that airplanes transport, and they are coming up with a policy. Cargo doesn't work the same as baggage. It has different lead times, and the industry does not want to do 100 percent screening because of the time delays that will cause. So industry leaders and TSA are looking at Customs' procedures and analyzing them to see if they will work here.

"Then, there's the issue of technology," continues Brigham. Scanning a full container would require a different kind of machine, bigger and stronger in how it tries to read contents, to find any dangerous material. A machine would need strong signals that bounce off of explosives so that the machine can read them."

For foreign vendors, the issue of cargo shipped via air is a delicate one. Vendors can manufacture and ship product quickly. But Customs' regulations require that manifest data be at the arrival port about 96 hours ahead of physical delivery. Air transport can arrive the same day as the manifest information, unless a plane is held back, thus causing a delay. TSA is investigating the best way to accommodate U.S. Customs regulations and still keep shipments timely. The agency is cautious about putting out a mandate that doesn’t fit current operations.

"There will likely be some compromises in the industry, though," says Brigham. "Anything they do will likely slow shipments."

Companies like UPS are very involved with these issues. "We deliver close to 14,000,000 packages per day," says Travis Spalding, United Parcel Service.

"How UPS handles cargo security issues depends on whether the cargo’s origin is domestic or international" continues Spalding. "If it's international, then Customs gets involved. They have their own way of picking out suspicious packages. And we’ve worked with them on a new software program called Target Search. This program lets Customs query electronic manifests of cargo coming in on our flights and search out suspicious criteria. Anything that comes up, our material handling systems automatically re-route or divert that volume to customs officials who then scan it or open it. For example, a plane from Europe comes in to Louisville, Kentucky. Customs is going to know what's on that plane before it touches the ground. And, by using the software, they know this electronically.

"For domestic parcels," continues Spalding, "the majority of shipments that come through our processes are from account holders - known shippers and known customers. They use UPS again and again. We do have occasional onetime pickups, particularly during holidays. But we train our employees on what to look for as far as suspicious packages. There are procedures in place to follow."

UPS tracing equipment is based on smart labels that deliver information encoded on the labels. Cameras read the data and automatically sort the packages to specific belts. Plus, UPS reserves the right to open any package.

Some creative passengers have tried to use UPS to ship their luggage to their destination rather than rely on the airlines. According to Spalding, that has happened occasionally. In those cases, UPS functioned as a third-party carrier. The passenger calls a service, not related to UPS, to pick up baggage. It's up to that service to ensure that luggage does not carry weapons or explosives. A problem with this arrangement for the passenger is the expense and the coordination that he must do.

Brave new world

While security developments are ongoing, there's concern among trade participants, manufacturers, and logistics businesses about the potential for overlapping regulations. "Right now," says Corrado, "everyone is trying to get some coordination among all of the initiatives. While they are all related to security, each addresses a different element. CSI is different than C-TPAT, for example. The objectives are different."

According to APL Logistics, the industry is hoping to establish clear, uniform guidelines that delineate procedures and responsibilities. They do not want policies that hinder the free flow of trade or sharing of data. And they do not want requirements that force partners to install new software or hardware.

These new regulations place a burden on small and mid-sized businesses particularly, many of which may not have the resources to implement all the changes. But, if they don’t spend the money, they could face delays and be at a competitive disadvantage. One solution being proposed is a tiered system of self-imposed security levels. Businesses would adopt a level of security that is necessary, achievable, and affordable in accordance with their needs. The higher a level of security maintained and verified throughout the chain, the less a business is subjected to delays due to inspections, examinations and audits. Such a system, however, is still a long way off, notes APL Logistics.

For more information ...

Contact the following companies:

APL Logistics:; 510-272-8208

FKI Logistics:; 877-935-4564

ID Systems:; 201-670-9000

Lockheed Martin for airport baggage integration: 407-306-1982;


Savi Technologies Inc.;; 408-743-8866

Siemens Dematic:


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