Trump budget calls for CT scanners to check carry-on luggage — possibly cutting airport wait times

A computed tomography scanner at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. The Transportation Security Administration is testing a CT scanner for carry-on bags as a way to increase security and speed screening lines.
(Transportation Security Administration)

President Trump’s budget for fiscal year 2019 has yet to win congressional approval but one of the president’s top security chiefs already is touting a portion of the spending plan that could speed up airport screening across the country.

At a conference on security this week, Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske praised a budget request to spend nearly $71 million to purchase 145 new airport scanners that rely on computed tomography to check carry-on bags.

Computed tomography scanners, also known as CT scanners, have long been used for medical imaging and also are installed at airports to screen checked luggage. But they have only recently been scaled down to a size that can be used for carry-on luggage.

During a speech at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, Pekoske said the scanner can view the contents of a bag in three dimensions, allowing security officers to flip the image on the screen 360 degrees.


“This CT technology goes from a two-dimensional view to a three-dimensional view so the officers can move [the image] around and they can slice it,” he said. “You are going to get a much better view.”

The technology could speed up the screening process by allowing passengers to leave all items, including laptop computers and liquids, in the bag. Testing on carry-on luggage has already begun.

“I’m really excited about that program and I think it’s going to make a huge difference at our checkpoints,” Pekoske said.

But to help pay for the new technology, the proposed budget calls for raising the passenger security fee charged to all fliers by $1 per one-way trip next year and $1.65 in 2020, raising the total fee in 2020 to $8.25 per one-way ticket.

The same budget proposal calls for a nearly $2 increase to two separate fees charged by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on travelers entering the country via boat or airplane.

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