Since 9/11, screening passengers for traces of explosives has become a de facto part of aviation in the USA and beyond. With new EU regulations now in force, CBNW Xplosive talks to Dr. Norbert Kloepper of Bruker Daltonik GmbH about their new detectors due to enter service in September 2015.
CBNW Xplosive: Please could you first outline the main reasons for trace detection screening?
NK: Explosive trace detection – ETD – is now an integral part of the passenger screening in the USA and many other countries, to minimise the probability of a passenger smuggling an explosive device onto an aircraft. It is usually placed after the X-ray hand luggage scanners and the metal scanning gates, but sometimes near the security body scanners to add an enhanced level of security.
The aim is to identify individuals who may have been in contact with explosives and to carry out thorough checks. Based on legal requirements, 10-20% of passengers have to undergo this procedure. This can be because they trigger the scanning systems, either in person or by something present in their carry-on bags, or when passengers are selected randomly for a more thorough check than normal.
CBNW Xplosive: How is screening changing in Europe?
NK: Major upgrades in passenger screening are taking place at airports in Europe. Security scanners are installed and there is a high probability that passengers’ belongings will be exposed to wipe testing and a manual search when the metal detector gates or the X-ray
scanner indicates that a particular passenger seems to present a risk.
The search for explosives has traditionally been governed by national regulations, and not all countries had the required technology or necessarily used it according to the new regulations. So, in order to harmonise the European approach, from 1 September 2015 these tests are now mandated on all flights within the EU. Based on EU regulation 185/2010, this approach has to be viewed in conjunction with the plan to lift the ban on liquids and gels in carry-on bags, but at the same time, maintain the high standard of security in European aviation.
CBNW Xplosive: Could you outline which kind of technology is used for ETD and how it works?
NK: Current systems are predominantly based on ion-mobility-spectrometry – IMS – which provides high sensitivity and which became the de facto standard. The IMS system is quite simple. A non-scratch sample swab is rubbed in a pre-defined pattern on the passenger’s hand, their luggage, laptop, or mobile phone and this swab collects the minute particles of explosives (trace explosives) that may be present. The swab is inserted into the detection instrument where it is rapidly heated to 200°C.
The resulting vapour is ionized by means of a source that creates ions which are then examined by their flight time in an electric field. When the device identifies those unique ions resulting from the presence of an explosive, an alert is triggered and the operator informed. The operator can then inform their supervisor so that an agreed security procedure can be implemented.
CBNW Xplosive: How and why were radioactive sources used?
NK: Until 2014 most systems available from different vendors contained a radioactive ionization source – a necessary technical component from which the ions of the sample are created. The use of these radioactive sources was a major hurdle for the operating authorities, since regular checks meeting legal requirements for radioactive sources needed to be completed routinely. This complexity was increased further because the movement of these devices needed to be tracked and traceable at all times in accordance with national legal requirements.
Recent technological developments have enabled the use of non-radioactive ionization sources in IMS instrumentation so that the compliance burden on the authorities is now drastically lower. In all tenders published recently, the use of instruments with
radioactive sources was excluded. This forced the former players to adopt their technology approach an opened the door to new players in this market.
CBNW Xplosive: How does the EU evaluate instrument performance?
NK: Each type of instrument to be used in EU aviation needs to be approved by the European Civil Aviation Conference, the ECAC, which has a common evaluation process – CEP – of security equipment applied to explosive detection systems, liquid explosive detection systems, security scanners, and ETD systems. Laboratory tests of all these systems are conducted at various participating test centres in ECAC Member States to determine whether the tested equipment meets the required ECAC performance standards.
The major issue for ETD in the current security approach is that the swab samples need to be taken manually to ensure that the surfaces most likely contaminated with explosive traces are screened correctly. This means that there needs to be proper operator training. The analysis time is in the range of 10 seconds, which might cause a throughput issue. It is easy to understand how this additional check can slow down the throughput in the security lines causing queues that are uncomfortable for passengers.
CBNW Xplosive: What products does Bruker Daltonik offer for ETD and how do they work?
NK: As an established provider of ETD solutions for passenger and cargo screening, Bruker Detection has recently introduced a new product line for ETD based on IMS technology. It consists of DE-tector, a bench-top system for swab samples at passenger checkpoints, and RoadRunner, a dual mode hand-held system both for vapour traces (colloquially known as a ‘sniffer’) and for swab sampling, making it particularly suited to cargo screening. The DE-tector was the first ETD instrument designed and built in Europe that achieved the ECAC Certification for passenger and cargo. The RoadRunner has also made its first steps in the international arena and has been purchased by several police organisations.
CBNW Xplosive: What are the key benefits of these products? Do you have any case study examples of where they’ve been successfully used?
NK: The key benefit of both products is that they use a non-radioactive ionization source that avoids the legal compliance burden (and associated costs) on the operating organizations. Furthermore, the total cost of ownership is reduced further by having are re-usable consumables: the sample swabs can be re-used up to 25 times. Technical features like automatic internal calibration reduce the logistical burden on the operator and allow them to focus purely on their screening task.
These systems are already in use with trusted forwarding companies who report that are very happy with the low number of false alarms from these products compared to previously used systems. Bruker has also been selected to equip Frankfurt International Airport, providing technology that allows this major airport to meet the new 2015 passenger screening regulations.
CBNW Xplosive: Isn’t Bruker Daltonik quite new in the aviation market?
NK: As the world HQ for the Detection Division, Bruker Daltonik GmbH in Germany has been manufacturing IMS devices for trace detection systems for over 25 years, and has gained an enviable reputation for the production of gold-standard instrumentation. In the markets we serve, Bruker IMS instruments are recognised for their high sensitivity, low false alarms rates, low consumables costs, and simplicity of use.
The decision to enter the airport ETD arena was taken following a careful study of this market. We recognised that most operators were concerned with most of the key Bruker attributes and also that one aspect of their existing operation was problematic – compliance with regulations relating to the use of radioactive sources in airport-based technologies. Because Bruker had pioneered the use of a non-radioactive source in a stationary IMS air monitor, we recognised that a careful blend of our existing IMS technologies could allow us to produce ETD packages that would provide an optimum solution. Therefore, we chose to enter this market with new technologies and first started to develop the DE-tector benchtop ETD system in 2009. Bruker is strongly committed to continuing to revolutionise the design, manufacture and distribution of detection tools based on our core technologies and by providing cost-effective solutions for aviation threats.
Dr. Norbert Kloepper is head of Bruker’s Explosives Trace Detection Business Unit. He was CBRNE Product Manager from 2002 to 2004 and R&D manager from 2004 to 2008, representing Bruker in the international research projects IMPACT, LOTUS and IMSK and becoming Director Sales & Marketing CBRNE in 2008.