Checked baggage inspection system at Missoula International Airport

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to screen every bag that is transported on a commercial aircraft, regardless of whether the bag travels in the cabin of the aircraft as carry-on luggage or if it is checked with the airline. A new checked baggage inspection system (CBIS) like the one recently installed at Missoula International Airport (MSO) features an automated network of conveyor belts that sort and track travelers’ checked luggage, moving it seamlessly from the airline ticket counter, through the security screening process and to the location where it is loaded onto the aircraft.

The CBIS at MSO has two integrated Explosive Detection System (EDS) units that use computed tomography to create a 3-D X-ray image of the contents of each checked bag. The EDS software is programmed to detect potential security threats. Through a sophisticated and swift analysis of the 3-D image, the EDS is able to determine whether the bag is cleared for travel or if it requires follow-up screening.

If the EDS unit identifies a potential security threat, the image of the contents of the bag will be electronically sent for review by a TSA officer (TSO) who is located in a separate location. The TSO follows an established protocol, reviewing the image on-screen to determine if the bag is cleared to travel or of it needs to be sent for a physical inspection by a TSO.

If a TSO physically inspects a checked bag, that screening is done in clear view of a closed-circuit television camera. Travelers receive a “Notice of Inspection” in the bag if it has been opened for physical inspection by a TSO. Once the bag is cleared of any security threats and ready for travel, it is repacked and closed prior to handoff to the airline.

The vast majority of bags screened by the EDS do not require additional screening. If a bag is cleared by the EDS, it continues through the CBIS and onto an aircraft without any TSA contact.

A CBIS streamlines the checked baggage screening process and automates the movement of bags. This reduces the number of physical injuries sustained by TSOs since they do not have to lift or manually move heavy bags belonging to travelers.

Facts and stats: CBIS at MSO

  • At MSO, there are two EDS units integrated into the CBIS.
  • Each EDS unit is capable of processing 550 checked bags per hour.
  • On average, TSA at MSO screens approximately 600 checked bags daily.
  • There are six search table stations at MSO to physically inspect checked bags.
  • The CBIS, which has been tested and certified, is scheduled to begin screening traveler’s luggage on June 8, 2022.

National overview

  • As of April 2022, TSA is screening on average 2.1 million people a day at more than 425 federalized airports.
  • As of April 2022, TSA screens an average of 1.4 million checked bags per day for explosives and other security threats that could be catastrophic on an aircraft.
  • Nationwide, about 5% of checked bags require physical inspection by a TSO. The rest are cleared by the EDS and on-screen resolution.
  • Using information contained in the barcode of the airline bag tag, TSA can tell if and/or when a bag may have been physically inspected by a TSO.