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What is the most Time Efficient Method of Screening Air Cargo?

This study was conducted by the Turkish firm Gozen Security and presented by Onur Zeyrek at the IATA AVSEC World Conference on February 27, 2019. AVSEC conference provides a forum to address the challenges facing the aviation industry. The conference unites security professionals to discuss current issues and actions to be taken to mitigate these risks.

Zeyrek’s study captured qualitative data for the comparison in the screening times for three types of Transportation Security Administrative (TSA) and European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) approved air cargo screening methods. The objective of the analysis was to determine the most time-efficient method amongst Dual View X-Ray, Explosive Trace Detection (ETD), and Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD).

All parameters and limitations of a study of this nature must be fully disclosed and understood. These variables are vital in shaping the outcomes and the resulting findings.

  1. This study was focused on the screening of cargo it was not a comparison of baggage screening.

  2. The study looked at two types of cargo configurations wrapped/unwrapped cardboard boxes and palletized shipments.

  3. Procedures and process used for each method were performed in accordance with the allowed practices under the ECAC. This variable does have a sizeable impact on the outcomes and the findings.

  4. Only actual screening times not accounting for any preparation, calibration, or close out activities. Ensuring that the start and end time for each method is clearly defined is vital to the comparative analysis.

The performance measure for the comparative analysis was time to screen 20 pallets (Euro Pallets – 120x80x130cm – estimate volume 11,000 lbs) of air cargo of three distinctively differing types of goods. The types of materials used for the screening study consisted of textiles, electronics, and mechanical parts.

The experience of the personnel involved was also taken into consideration. This variable was broken down into three categories:

  • Operator / Handler Group A – less than 6 months experience

  • Operator / Handler Group B – 1 to 3 years of experience

  • Operator / Handler Group C – more than 3 years of experience

Data Collection

This section provides an overview of the data that was collected and presented in connection with that collection process for each of the methods.

Defined Screening Start and End Times

As previously discussed clearly defining the start and stop types for each method. The following list outlines the how the beginning and end of the screening process was defined for this study.

  • Dual View X-Ray: Starts when the skid is placed on the conveyor belt and ends once the skids has exited the viewer.

  • ETD: Starts with the unpacking of the shipment and finishes with the repacking of the shipment.

  • EDD: Starts when the canine handler initiates the screening and ends once the canine has completed screening the entire skid.

ETD Screening Results

As outlined earlier in this article the study was conducted based on the required process for each method as outlined by the ECAC. Under this guidance the use of ETDs requires that the operator conduct an internal sampling. This requires that parcels be opened and swabbed. The researchers recorded the times for each stage in the process for a single piece.

  • Unpacking & Repacking: 3-5 minutes

  • Sampling: 25-30 seconds

  • Analysis: 10-14 seconds

The average time for performing the actual screening was 40 seconds. However due to the required process the Unpacking and Repacking of the contents was three times longer than the actual screening.

The following table presents the recorded average times for the use of ETD as the primary screening method for a single skid and 20 skids.

Time Comparison Study: Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) Results

Dual View X-Ray Results

Non-Computed Tomography (Non-CT) Transmission X-Ray Devices (X-Ray Devices) are fixed projection X-ray inspection devices that display digitized transmission radiographic images of an object under inspection following an interrogation. Dual-View provides security screening personnel with the ability to see two views from scanning the object one time. Whereas, Multiview delivers three or more images of the item being screened. For the purposes of this study only Dual-View X-Ray Devices where used.

The following table following table provides a summary of the sampling used. As discussed previously in this article consideration was given to personnel experience. The below list outlines the groupings:

  • Operator / Handler Group A – less than 6 months experience

  • Operator / Handler Group B – 1 to 3 years of experience

  • Operator / Handler Group C – more than 3 years of experience

Time Comparison Study Dual View X-Ray Sample Size

Results for the average times across all operator groups are presented in the following table.

Time Comparison Study Dual View X-Ray Results

The use of Dual View X-Ray for textiles was fairly simple for the operators to identify any anomalies. However, when screening mechanical parts and electronics the operators spent far more time as the images were much more complex to read and determine if any anomalies were present. Even with this additional screening time X-Rays classified 53% of mechanical parts and 22% of electronics as suspicious items.

Global K9 Protection Group CCSF-K9 Services

Explosive Detection Dog (EDD)

Explosive detection canines (EDC) naturally have the ability to identify individual odors along with its source. The canine’s nose contains an estimated 300 million sensory receptors. When air is drawn into the nostrils it stimulates these receptors that are connected to the large olfactory bulb in the dog’s brain. The olfactory is a part of the sensory system that processes smell down to parts per trillion (ppt). These sensors then allow the dog to recognize/detect the target odor’s direction. Not only do working dogs have a remarkable sensitivity to smell they are an intelligent instrument in detection. With each encounter, the canine becomes smarter as it builds a target database from past exposures. This scent database has been developed over the course of thousands of years. Humans have been leveraging outstanding odor detection capabilities of canines for centuries. Learn More About the Capabilities of Detection Canines.

All canines used in this study were all certified by the Turkish Police. The table below provides the average time results of canine screening.

Explosive Detection Dog (EDD) - CCSF-K9 Cargo Screening Study Results

The GK9PG current operational teams are operating through the US are currently averaging about 8 seconds per skid. However, to maintain continuity of the study this summary is based on the data as reported and presented at AVSEC Conference 2019.

Study’s Findings

This section provides a summary of the study’s findings and conclusions that can be drawn from this research. We must revisit two of the major factors that had a significant impact on the study.

The first, was the procedures and process used for each method were performed in accordance with the allowed practices under the ECAC. This variable did have a sizeable impact on the outcomes as related to the feasibility of ETD. Based on the ECAC requirements the use of ETD as a primary air cargo screening method is not feasible.

The second, was that only actual screening times not accounting for any preparation, calibration, or close out activities. Ensuring that the start and end time for each method is clearly defined is vital to the comparative analysis. The Dual-View X-Ray results captured that 53% mechanical parts and 22% of electronics were classified as suspicious items. The time associated with this additional screening was not record and had no bearing on the comparison model. However, operationally these high rates could significantly impact operations.

In all three methods studied, operator competency had a direct impact on the screening time. In EDD, the canine’s proficiency was also a performance driver. The more experience that the X-Ray operator has reduces the required time for interpreting complicated images such as electronics. Conversely the experience of the Operator / K9 handlers does not greatly impact the required screening time for EDDs or ETDs.

Time-Efficiency Comparison

The findings of this study support the assumption that canines are more time-efficient across all three types of goods. The type of contents being screened had a substantial effect of the time required for X-ray screening. Conversely, the type of contents had a minimal effect on the canines. The chart below displays the time comparison between Canines and Dual-View X-Ray to completely screen 20 skids by type of content.

Time Comparison Study Canines vs Dual View X-Ray Results

Comparing the two methods of screening canines were considerably more time-efficient in regard to the screening of mechanical parts and electronics. K9 cargo screening was 51.8% more efficient than X-ray for the screening of mechanical parts and 47.5% more efficient when screening Electronics.

A sound security program must be layered and comprehensive. We cannot rely on a single method, instead we must leverage technology and develop integrated solutions. The challenge is to understand how to best utilize each screening method.
— Johnny Stewart - GK9PG - Director of Corporate Security & Compliance


The effectiveness and efficiency of canines has long been recognized by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Combined with the current 100% screening requirement for passenger aircraft and the upcoming 100% requirement for all cargo flights resulted in the TSA establishing the Third-Party Canine Screening or 3PK9 program to create and monitor Certified Cargo Screening Facility - K9 (CCSF-K9). Under this program, private sector canine companies will be able to provide TSA certified cargo screening canine teams to assist in meeting these new requirements.

3PK9 Teams are 3rd party or private sector explosive detection canine teams (EDC Teams). Each team is comprised of one canine handler and one assigned canine that must pass an annual TSA certification. 3PK9 Teams conduct cargo screening under 49 CFR part 1549. 3PK9 teams perform cargo screening operations as CCSF-K9s once they have been certified by TSA approved certifying organization.

Global K9 Protection Group

The GK9PG team has established the Canine Cargo Screening Center of Excellence (CSCOE). This 75,000 square foot structure located in the Auburn, AL area is entirely dedicated to the development of Certified Cargo Screening Facility - K9 (CCSF-K9) teams. Our team of K9 Professionals are currently providing CCSF-K9 services in 20 cities across the United States.

GK9PG is a technology focused company that is centered on developing dynamic solutions to meet the ever-changing security landscape. By embracing digital transformation and infusing lessons learned, we are able to deliver the highest quality K9 services in the industry.

Our Certified Cargo Screening Facility K9s (CCSF-K9) serve as bio-sensors to bolster air cargo security. Combining cargo screening K9s with highly trained K9 Professionals creates one of the most advanced air cargo screening technologies.

GK9PG Cargo Screening Solutions