Monday, July 19, 2010

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Airlines scramble to add x-ray technology to meet TSA deadline

Airlines are buying giant X-ray machines and other machinery to meet an Aug. 1 deadline to begin screening all cargo that goes on passenger planes.

Federal officials say the new rules will close a large security gap. Just four years ago, only half of all cargo was inspected.
But the system to guard against terrorists getting a bomb on a plane is far from airtight. Cargo coming into the U.S. from other countries is still often not inspected.

In a sweltering warehouse next to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Friday, American Airlines workers were being trained in the use of a 12-foot-high black box, an X-ray machine that was installed just two weeks ago.

To reduce the load on airlines, about half of all domestic cargo is being screened at more than 800 facilities run by companies certified by the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA relies on those operators to ensure that cargo isn't opened before reaching the airport.

For cargo that American screens, the airline is raising its charge and forcing shippers to get to the airport two hours earlier, starting Aug. 1.

The TSA is talking to aviation officials in other countries to close another gap — cargo on planes arriving in the U.S. from other countries. The TSA's top official told Congress in March that it could be years before all inbound cargo is screened.

Inbound shipments that the TSA deems high risk — officials won't say how they decide — must be screened before the plane heads for the U.S. In other cases, shipments must be inspected after landing in the U.S. before being loaded on another plane.


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