Rapiscan announced it had been awarded a contract by the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting batteries in air cargo.  The contract with the UK CAA, supported by UK Department for Transport funding, calls for Rapiscan to develop advanced detection algorithms to establish the extent to which lithium batteries transported within air cargo can be identified. “The transport of undeclared lithium batteries through air cargo presents a safety risk that the CAA continues to address,” said Ian Shaw, CAA’s State Safety Programme Manager.  “The CAA chose Rapiscan for this important project because they have the technical expertise to gather and process significant test data”.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has identified the need to regulate the transport of lithium batteries. According to a recent IATA report, beginning January 1, 2015, lithium-metal batteries transported as cargo will be restricted to cargo aircraft only. Over the nine-month contract period of performance, Rapiscan will examine various cargo configurations and develop, test, and evaluate advanced image-processing software tools for their efficacy. Results of this study may be used by the CAA to propose new air-cargo handling policies, and may encourage further technology advancement toward the commercial use of software tools to assist air cargo inspectors.

Looking at the threat from novel explosive devices, like the printer cartridge plot in 2010, there is to me no doubt that this contract is aimed at picking up elements of devices that might be missed by conventional explosive detectors. The device intercepted in East Midlands in 2010, for example, was swabbed for explosives and checked by dogs, none of which alarmed for the presence of explosives. The device’s power came from a lithium mobile phone battery, however, and this is clearly the component that Rapiscan are now going to checking for in this contract. If they can do it will close a gap, and allow air cargo to become that little bit safer, and force the bomb makers into a new modality.

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