August 13, 2003
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WA firm develops explosives detector
A WEST Australian firm has developed world-leading technology for reliable detection of explosives in aircraft luggage.

Norman Shanks, a director of the Perth firm QRSciences, said the technology operated in a similar manner to medical magnetic resonance imaging and could detect explosives more reliably and cheaply than existing airport scanners.

Mr Shanks, the former head of security at the British Airport Authority and at London's Heathrow airport, said the terrorist bomb, known in military terms as an improvised explosive device , placed in either carry-on or checked luggage still posed a substantial risk to commercial aircraft.

"You have a better chance of destroying an aircraft in flight with an IED than you may have with a MANPADS (man portable air defence system)," he told reporters in Canberra today.

"That is provided the countermeasures at that airport are not in place to detect an IED."

Under International Civil Aviation Organisation rules, airports around the world will have to provide 100 per cent screening of checked and carry-on baggage by 2006.

Australia is now moving to meet this requirement and representatives of QRSciences were in Canberra today to brief politicians about just what their technology can do.

It's been under development for seven years and has already been trialed successfully at Perth Airport and in the UK and Canada. It's been tested and approved by the US Transportation Security Administration.

It uses a technique known as quadrupole resonance under which the target baggage is subject to radio waves tuned to a specific compound such as narcotics, plastic explosives or any of some 20,000 other chemicals.

If that material is detected, the machine sounds an alarm.

Mr Shanks said this was far more reliable than existing airport technology which used X-rays and computer tomography scanners and relied heavily on the skill and alertness of the operator.

"If a security operator makes a bad judgment, potentially you lose a whole aircraft," he said.

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