Aviation Security:

Development of New Security Technology Has Not Met Expectations

RCED-94-142: Published: May 19, 1994. Publicly Released: May 19, 1994.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

John H. Anderson, Jr
(202) 512-8024
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) efforts to develop new equipment for detecting explosives and methods to improve aircraft survivability.

GAO found that: (1) FAA has made little progress in deploying new explosive detection systems because of technical problems; (2) FAA could take 2 to 5 years to approve new devices for airlines' use; (3) FAA efforts to enhance aircraft survivability are promising but are several years from completion; (4) FAA does not plan to test new explosive detection systems at airports during the certification process; (5) FAA has not conducted software reviews to evaluate system designs, emphasized integrating different technologies into total systems, or focused sufficient attention on human factors issues; (6) FAA lacks a purchasing strategy to guide its and the airlines' efforts to implement new security equipment; (7) if FAA expeditiously develops an implementation strategy, the airlines will be in a better position to plan and budget for future security acquisitions; and (8) Congress is considering legislation that would clarify the availability of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant funds to purchase explosive detection systems.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress considered this measure and decided against it.

    Matter: Congress should consider requiring FAA to certify explosive detection equipment as a condition of eligibility for AIP grant funds.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT responded in November 1994 and concurred in part with the recommendation. In spring 1996, FAA merged this effort with a much larger industry/government initiative that examined how to increase security at U.S. airports in response to the increased threat. The new initiative will examine the implementation of technology for screening bags, passengers, and cargo, as well as other security issues.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the introduction of new explosive detection equipment, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a plan, with industry, that provides a strategy for implementing new detection technology during the next decade. This plan should include important milestones and identify roles; cost estimates for the purchase, operation, and maintenance of explosive detection systems; and FAA and industry resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA is now placing greater emphasis on human factors. Since 1994, FAA's aviation security human factors funding has increased 77 percent. FAA embarked on a new training program for airport screeners and is purchasing and deploying at all major airports by the end of 1997 the Screener Proficiency Evaluation and Reporting System, a computerized training and testing system that will help improve screener performance. In addition, FAA has investigated the human factors aspects of operating the CTX-5000 explosives detection system's control panel.

    Recommendation: To further improve the FAA security RE&D program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to focus on human factors associated with using new devices, especially on how operators will work with the new technology, throughout the development process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred with the recommendation and said that it was placing greater emphasis on systems integration, but believed that it would take considerable time due to proprietary hardware and software issues. Since 1994, FAA has taken several actions to integrate various detection devices in order to improve the detection of explosives, as well as other threat objects. FAA has: (1) certified and deployed the CTX-5000, which uses X-ray and CAT scan technologies to detect explosives in checked bags; (2) deployed trace detection devices that sample vapors on bags for explosives residues and are being used in conjunction with X-ray devices to detect explosives; (3) deployed and integrated Threat Image Projection devices into the existing X-ray devices to improve screeners' performance in detecting explosives and other threat objects; and (4) initiated several R&D projects aimed at developing and integrating various technologies to further improve the detection of explosives and other threat objects.

    Recommendation: To further improve the FAA security RE&D program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to place greater emphasis on integrating devices when initiating development projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred in part with the recommendation. FAA said that it evaluates software in design reviews where possible, but much software is proprietary and cannot be evaluated.

    Recommendation: To further improve the FAA security research, engineering and development (RE&D) program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to evaluate software when reviewing systems' designs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred with this recommendation. The role of trace detection technology has changed and is no longer a high priority at FAA for some applications. FAA is scaling back its trace efforts for checked baggage. However, trace technology is now considered critical by experts for screening passengers, carry-on bags, and cargo.

    Recommendation: To improve the FAA certification process for new explosive detection technology, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to discontinue the development of trace technology for screening checked baggage until certification standards have been established.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT disagreed with this recommendation and plans no action on it. While FAA agrees that reliability data are important, it does not believe that reliability criteria in the certification standards are appropriate. According to FAA, reliability, dependability, and cost-effectiveness are better evaluated after the equipment is installed at airports.

    Recommendation: To improve the FAA certification process for new explosive detection technology, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to include reliability criteria in the certification standards for new equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT did not concur with this recommendation. While DOT recognizes the importance of airport testing, it believes that issues associated with reliability should be addressed after certification, but prior to any decision concerning widespread deployment of a new device.

    Recommendation: To improve the FAA certification process for new explosive detection technology, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require operational tests of the performance and reliability of explosive detection systems at airports during certification.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred with the recommendation. FAA has completed airport demonstrations and assessments of new explosive detection equipment for checked baggage at the Atlanta and San Francisco airports and at the Manila Airport. A final report on these tests should be issued shortly. FAA has purchased 54 of the tested explosive detection systems using a portion of the $144.2 million appropriated in the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act for 1997 for the purchase and installation of such equipment. Some of these units have already been installed and other installations are under way. In addition, FAA is conducting assessments of other commercially available equipment for screening checked baggage at its Atlantic City Technical Center.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to assess the effectiveness of commercially available explosive detection equipment for screening checked baggage by acquiring and testing such equipment at a limited number of domestic airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 14, 2016

Sep 2, 2016

Aug 8, 2016

Jul 28, 2016

Jul 13, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Jun 24, 2016

Jun 21, 2016

May 26, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here