Streamlined Metro system to keep bags on the move: In-line equipment cuts time, money


Mar. 19--Luggage rumbles along a conveyor belt maze at McNamara Terminal as tiny doors open and snap shut, directing a well-choreographed, high-tech ballet of security.

Passengers at Detroit Metro Airport won't notice much difference, but the security system now sending thousands of checked bags to aircraft every day has had an extreme makeover -- with new equipment that can speed luggage through in almost half the time.

The $72-million project makes Detroit one of 20 airports nationwide using an in-line screening system for all its luggage screening. All the screening is done behind the scenes, using state-of-the-art explosives-detection machines.

About $36.5 million was paid for with federal money, and the Wayne County Airport Authority picked up the difference.

"It's a lot more efficient than the previous patchwork systems we've had ... all bags go to a single security facility where they are cleared by our officers," said Robert Ball, Detroit Metro's federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration.

Bags could take up to 30 minutes to get through the old screening system at the terminal. Now the maximum time for screening is down to about 16 minutes, Ball said.

An in-line system was built into the new North Terminal, which opened in September 2008. In the old screening system, TSA agents had to do a lot more lifting and manipulating of checked items.

"It was a very manual process, a lot of bending over ... it was more physically demanding on our employees," Ball said, adding that injuries should drop.

The monstrous contraption of two levels of conveyor belts looks like a giant Rube Goldberg machine, but it's a clear step forward for security, he said.

"This is the way you want to do it ... it's another advancement in the security process," Ball said.

Contact MARY FRANCIS MASSON at 313-222-6159 or