Hold Baggage Screening

Document Type

Book Chapter


Aviation Security Company Ltd


Sidney Chau Foo-cheong


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Computer and Security Science / Security Research Centre (secAU)




This chapter was originally published as: Shanks, N. (2011). Hold baggage screening. In S. Chau(Ed.). Aviation security: Challenges and solutions (pp. 121-132). Lantau, Hong Kong: Aviation Security Company Ltd.


The genesis of the current process for 100% checked baggage screening grew out, as most security measures have, from a joint industry and government response to the terrorist attack on Pan Am flight PA 103 (Pan Am 103) over Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988. Prior to this successful attack, screening of checked baggage was limited in both scale and technical ability. Screening tended to be focused almost exclusively on flights categorised as high risk or with a temporary elevated threat due to the carriage of certain high profile passengers. Ironically the baggage destined for Pan Am 103 at Heathrow was screened in accordance with the United States Federal Aviation Administration regulations at Frankfurt airport by Pan Am’s own security company, Alert, prior to it being loaded on the feeder flight Pan Am 103A. This was a narrow bodied Boeing 727 with loose loaded baggage in the hold, whereas Pan Am 103 itself was a Boeing 747 with containerised baggage. The baggage screening was carried out at Frankfurt on both originating and transfer baggage, but not when the airline transferred the baggage tail to tail from the Pan Am 103A to the Pan Am 103 at Heathrow. Unfortunately as we now know, (and probably knew at the time but would not admit) the X-ray technologies used were neither designed nor capable of detecting explosives. The technology was effectively the same as that developed in the mid 1970s for screening carry-on baggage for weapons used in hijacking of aircraft, which in those days were typically guns or knives, certainly not explosives.