Auckland Airport gets security boost as hi-tech hand-luggage scanner installed

A new hi-tech baggage scanner has been installed at Auckland Airport, which Biosecurity New Zealand says will provide another layer of protection against invasive pests and diseases.

The computer tomography (CT) scanner has already proved its worth – two bananas in a small carry-on bag were found arriving with a New Zealand family from Dubai earlier this month.

Biosecurity New Zealand has been trialling the technology with selected flights since late October. Arriving passengers have their hand baggage scanned before they collect checked-in items from the luggage belts. 

"We're deliberately targeting baggage that travellers carry off the plane. It's where we're most likely to find food that could host fruit fly and other pests," Border Technology Manager, Biosecurity New Zealand Brett Hickman says. 

Hickman reinforced the message that biosecurity is crucially important to Aotearoa, as an unwanted pest or disease could devastate New Zealand's primary sector economy or its natural environment. 

He says the new scanner provides three-dimensional images that are much clearer than traditional x-ray images. 

Hickman says the technology also screens baggage faster than x-ray, and also has potential to automatically detect risk items arriving with international passengers and mail. 

"We're working closely with Australia authorities and the manufacturer to develop software that will make this a reality," he added.

"We have already started developing algorithms that can find fruit, meat and seafood, and prospects are looking good for detecting seeds."

Biosecurity New Zealand now has two CT scanners at Auckland Airport. Officers have been trialling a larger unit since late 2018 to scan suitcases and other checked-in baggage. 

"We plan to use the technology to screen baggage before arriving travellers pick up their belongings from the airline – similar to how security screening operates at many international airports," Hickman said.

"The screening information will be electronically directed to officers, putting them in a better position to evaluate risk when they interact with travellers."