Albany Airport upgrades to newest baggage scanners; TSA seeks officers to run them

The new next-generation CT scanners for carry-on luggage are shown at the security checkpoint at Albany International Airport on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in an image provided by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
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The new next-generation CT scanners for carry-on luggage are shown at the security checkpoint at Albany International Airport on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in an image provided by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

COLONIE — The security checkpoint at Albany International Airport has completed the switchover to next-generation scanners and the TSA is trying to hire people to run them amid rising passenger volume.

The Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday the new computed tomography X-ray systems generate a state-of-the-art three-dimensional image of the contents of carry-on bags, better protecting planes and their occupants from weapons and other dangerous items. The system they replace generates a two-dimensional image.

The five machines at Albany are part of a round of upgrades at airports nationwide that will see 938 systems installed at a cost of up to $781 million.

The human side of the system is just as important.

A TSA spokesman said Tuesday that the labor market is tight in many regions, including Albany and Syracuse.

The agency is planning a series of hiring events here as the busy summer travel season ramps up. Transportation security officers start at $18.99 per hour, with an opportunity for a pay increase at six months and a $1,000 bonus for those hired to work at Albany International Airport.

TSA is currently paying officers to work overtime to bridge the gap when there aren’t enough security officers, the spokeswoman said.

Albany passenger volume in spring 2022 is up substantially from spring 2021 and up enormously from spring 2020, when the nation was in the early stages of the COVID pandemic.

Passenger boardings are now exceeding 4,000 per day on average, airport spokesman Doug Myers said, and on some days are exceeding the pre-pandemic volume of 2019.

“We’re confident that this trend will continue,” he said.

The average number of flights, meanwhile, has reached 43 a day, significantly more than before the pandemic. The Airport Authority regularly discusses additional flights and new destinations with existing and potential new carriers, Myers said.

The old scanners at Albany International were replaced one-by-one with the new units, which are cousins of the CT equipment used in medical facilities to provide cross-sectional images of patients with greater clarity and detail than conventional X-rays.

“Previously, our screening technology for carry-on bags used 2-D images,” Bart R. Johnson, TSA’s federal security director for upstate New York, said in a news release. “The CT technology applies advanced algorithms for the detection of explosives, including liquid explosives and other threat items.”

Certain details of the new equipment may impact travelers: 

It takes a few extra seconds for the TSA security officer to flip and rotate the images to see what’s in the bag, but being able to do so will reduce the need for time-consuming manual inspections of bags. 

Also, the entrance tunnel on the new equipment is slightly smaller, so the largest carry-on bags will no longer fit, and will need to be checked.

Finally, laptops and other electronics will no longer need to be removed from the carry-on.

For people interested in jobs operating the new scanning systems, TSA recruiting tables will be set up in the airport’s baggage claim area from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays June 16 to July 28. TSA will also attend job fairs July 11 at the Marriott on Wolf Road and July 13 at the Holiday Inn in Latham.

Prior experience in security or law enforcement is not necessary. New hires will be trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and be paid while attending.

“The TSA was created after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and by joining the TSA, individuals will be on the front line of protecting the traveling public and will also be part of our national security enterprise,” Johnson said in a news release. 

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