ICT is the latest biosecurity tool in NZ airports

This is a game changer for biosecurityMinister Damien O’Connor

Auckland Airport is trialling the most sophisticated X-ray technology available to scrutinise the bags of international travellers for any unwanted pests.

“Our dynamic biosecurity environment means we must constantly adjust our scrutiny and strengthen our border security as threats emerge,” says Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor.

The million-dollar scanner features three-dimensional imaging (real-time tomography) that will make it easier for quarantine officers to pinpoint risky items that have been difficult to detect in the past such as dried meat, goods hidden behind laptops and stink bugs.

O’Connor says Biosecurity New Zealand is also developing software with Australian counterparts that will allow the scanner to automatically recognise risky items such as fruit that could harbour fruit fly.

“This is a game changer for biosecurity,” says O’Connor.

“It is the most sophisticated piece of X-ray technology we could have in place to support our officers at Auckland Airport and provides another useful tool in our multi-layered biosecurity system, sitting alongside 50 detector dog teams, arrival cards, risk assessment and public awareness campaigns.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor

“The scanner will check bags before passengers pick them up and images will be sent to quarantine ahead of any searches, similar to how security X-ray screening operates at many major international airports.

“Ultimately we want this technology in place across the passenger, mail and cargo pathways as traveller numbers and trade increases,” he says.

“It’s important we all do our bit for biosecurity as we all benefit from a country relatively free of unwanted pests and diseases and we all suffer the consequences of an incursion.”

How it works

Quarantine officers assess every arriving passenger for biosecurity risk. Higher risk passengers can be directed to have their baggage screened by x-ray.

Current technology and related processes have not changed much since they were introduced in the 1990s. Since then, New Zealand has experienced an explosion in international visitors, creating growing pressure to move passengers quickly through biosecurity checks.

There are currently eight x-ray units in use at Auckland Airport. At peak times, up to 32 staff can be required to operate the units. The current technology produces two-dimensional images that rely on the operators to identify risk items.

The new technology, meanwhile, will allow x-ray screening before arriving passengers pick up their bags from flights.

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“This will fundamentally change the existing biosecurity screening process and will be similar to how inbound security x-ray screening operates at many major international airports,” according to a fact sheet on the project by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The new system will identify risk items and bags of interest before passengers approach the biosecurity lanes.

The technology can also assist Customs by detecting illegal goods in check-in baggage

This information will be available to quarantine officers before they interact with passengers, allowing them to make better biosecurity risk assessment decisions.

Officers will have a much better idea of the contents of a passenger’s baggage before they ask any questions.

The report says the technology can screen baggage faster than the current units. The customer experience will also be improved by the fact that passengers will no longer need to load their baggage onto an x-ray machine.

The screening will take place before the baggage arrives in the collection area.

The technology will potentially reduce the need for x-ray machines in the busy biosecurity control area currently shared with New Zealand Customs Service. It can also assist Customs by detecting illegal goods in check-in baggage.

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