October 5, 2012 Puffers maybe making a comeback.
If you traveled in the U.S. between 2004 and 2008 you may remember going through a “puffer” at the security checkpoint. For those that don’t know a puffer is a man-trap sized machine that you walk into, and the machine puffs air at you. Then the machine analyzes the air to see if there are explosive particles coming off you. The TSA found these machines to be unreliable at detecting explosives and unreliable in general and retired them several years ago.
Hitachi has developed a new puffer machine. This puffer system is built into boarding gate podiums. The thought is that as each person boards the plane they will walk through the machine, the puffer will do its work, and if the person is clean allow them on to the plane. http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2012/10/05/puff-of-air-could-boost-airport-security
This is a horrible idea for several reasons. First, assuming that the machine takes time to do the analysis, it will substantially delay boarding. Assuming ten seconds doing the analysis, it would add on 30 minutes on to narrow-body boarding and over an hour to wide-body boarding. Now, assuming the same error rate there are going to be false positives. The airline isn’t going to handle security, so it will inflate the ranks of the TSA or force the airport to hire additional security. All of that cost is going to get passed on to the air-traveler in the form of higher PFCs and taxes. Finally, what happens when they break, does the flight get canceled or do the gate agents just find a work-around?
While, I applaud Hitachi for trying to find technical solutions to airport security, this idea seems just a puff away from disaster.