Logan International Airport today became one of six big US airports testing out a new handheld liquid-explosives detection scanning system.
For now, the scanning devices won't change any of the toughened restrictions on liquids in carry-on bags, said George N. Naccara, head of the Transportation Security Administration for the northeastern US. Passengers at Logan and the five other airports will still have to follow the TSA's 3-1-1 rule: They can't bring containers of liquids or gels bigger than 3 ounces, whatever containers they bring must fit into a one-quart clear bag, and only bag is allowed per passenger.
But Naccara is optimistic that the devices, made by Washington, D.C., homeland security and defense contractor ICX Technologies Inc., will make air travel safer and give passengers that much more faith in airport security. "We're always looking to add new layers of security, and the results of our testing of them so far are so good that there's optimism the agency will purchase 200 of them this year and deploy them widely,'' Naccara said in an interview at Logan's international Terminal E during an event demonstrating the devices.
Costing $20,000 to $25,000 each, the four-pound, hand-held devices look a little like a handheld store scanner. TSA screeners aim the tip of the device at containers with liquids in them and the vapors are drawn in to a device that analyzes vapors for traces of multiple known explosive compounds. Within seconds a coded digital display indicates if the compound being tested is showing suspect concentrations of the compounds, which Naccara said he could not name for security reasons.
The TSA imposed the new carry-on restrictions last August after British security agents foiled an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to blow up 10 trans-Atlantic jets using improvised bombs mixed from liquids carried onto the planes.
Naccara said the first device will be used mainly in Terminal E at Logan, but if the TSA buys and deploys more as now envisioned, they would begin using them at the three other terminals. "It will not be used for everyone'' passing through security right away, Naccara said, but only people who are selected for secondary screening or whose carry-ons or shoes trigger other explosive detection devices.
TSA screeners said they found the device easy to use. "It's very simple. It's very easy to manage,'' said Jomayra Reyes, a TSA officer at the Terminal E checkpoint who completed a two-hour training class Wednesday to learn how to use it. "It's a good machine.''
Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella said officials at the airport -- from which the two planes that brought down New York's World Trade Center took off on Sept. 11, 2001 -- are always eager to test out new security technologies through a homeland security "center for excellence'' set up by the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan.
The other five airports where the devices are now being used are Detroit Metro Wayne County, Las Vegas' McCarran International, Los Angeles International, Miami International, and Newark Liberty International.
(By Peter J. Howe, Globe staff)