THE US FEDERAL Aviation Administration is to begin testing later this year of the first explosives-detection system (EDS) certificated for baggage checks.

Approved for use late in 1994, the InVision Technologies CTX-5000, a "computed tomography" system, can differentiate explosive material from other materials in cluttered passenger bags.

The system evolved from technology first used in the medical field. Computed tomographic images - often referred to as CAT scans - are obtained. The CTX-5000 incorporates a computer used to screen bags automatically for small amounts of explosives. The system, which the manufacturer says has a low false-alarm rate, is able to scan large bags in seconds.

Certification of the CTX-5000 follows nine years of research. The FAA has spent $90 million on EDS research and development, $9 million of which went towards this bomb-detecting technology.

Tough standards and testing protocols for the EDS were developed in response to the US Aviation Security Act of 1990. The federal law results from the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988. The Act requires the widescale use of explosives detectors to screen checked baggage on international flights, but it also demands that the FAA should test and certificate explosive detectors before they are introduced.

The FAA's standard has been adopted by the European Civil Aviation Conference. FAA officials believe that member nations are likely to follow suit. InVision Technologies says that the CTX-5000 has been tested in Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the UK and the USA. A unit is in use at Brussels Zaventem Airport.

Trials of the CTX-5000 at two locations are planned for this year and conclude in early 1997. The FAA could require EDS fielding by late 1997. The FAA is talking with carriers Delta, Northwest and United about a role in the trials.

Source: Flight International