A recent attempted terrorist attack aboard a commercial airliner could mean big business for companies making body imaging scanners, especially two firms with technology already approved by federal authorities.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman Greg Soule said Rapiscan Systems in Ocean Springs, Miss., and L-3 Communications Holdings, based in New York, have met TSA's "imaging technology standards" for scanners in airports.
Soule said any new orders would be put out for competitive bid. He said the X-ray body scanners cost between $130,000 and $170,000 apiece.
TSA hasn't said if it will speed up efforts to install machines in airports beyond plans already in place after authorities said a man tried to blow up a plane Christmas Day. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old native of Nigeria, is charged with trying to detonate explosives on the Detroit-bound flight.
Some security experts believe imaging technology could have detected the explosives hidden beneath his clothes.
Rapiscan anticipates an increase in demand and is prepared to expand the Mississippi operation if the company needs to, said Peter Kant, executive vice president of global government affairs.
"We expect a certain spike in demand," Kant said.
Rapiscan is in the process of filling a TSA order placed before the attack for 150 scanners, and the agency has inquired about the company's ability to increase production, Kant said.
The 150 Rapiscan devices were paid for with federal stimulus money, Soule said.
Rapiscan is building 60 machines a month, and Kant said the company could double that production if needed and create about 25 more jobs in southern Mississippi.
TSA plans to buy 300 more scanning devices in 2010 after a competitive bid process.
L-3 announced in early December that TSA approved its product, Provision, and that it has about 40 devices in 19 airports. An L-3 spokeswoman referred questions to TSA.
Both L-3 and Rapiscan have taken steps to ensure passengers' privacy, which has been an obstacle for officials who want body scanners in every airport. And the recent terrorist scare could change attitudes, and lead to demands for more security despite privacy concerns.
Kant said Rapiscan's machines use X-rays to create an image of the body that looks similar to a chalk outline and allows security officials to see if people are trying to smuggle objects beneath their clothes.