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June 16, 2011

Customs and Border Protection Radiation Inspections

On December 30, 2007, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) implemented a program to scan all internationally arriving general aviation (GA) aircraft for illicit radiological/nuclear materials. This is an expansion of a pilot program to scan GA aircraft arriving at certain ports first reported on by NBAA.

In June 2011, CBP modified the screening procedure to allow for aircraft electrical systems to remain powered during the inspection. This change is due to efforts by NBAA and other industry groups to streamline the screening process without sacrificing security protections.

Program Background:

Currently, CBP scans a considerable percentage of cargo containers, ships, trucks and cars for radiation when they arrive in the U.S. by land and sea. CBP places importance on all modes of transportation and developed this program to expand radiation scanning of internationally arriving aircraft.

This screening program uses the GR-135 Radiation Isotope Identifier (RIID). The device detects and identifies the specific type of radiation being emitted which allows CBP officers to reduce the incidence of false alarms by determining if the radioactive material detected in the aircraft is normally occurring.

Previously, CBP officers wore a Personal Radiation Detector, which is a belt-worn device that only identified if radiation was present, not the specific type of radiation. This is an older technology, but is still in use.

Scanning Procedure:

CBP has provided the following guidance in regard to the scanning procedure that will be used by officers:

  • At the discretion of the CBP officer, passengers and crew may be required to disembark the aircraft prior to screening. CBP has indicated that officers will take into account weather and general safety conditions when determining if passengers will be required to disembark the aircraft.
  • The CBP officer will scan the exterior and interior of the aircraft using the RIID.
  • The scanning procedure, which should take between 5-15 minutes depending on aircraft size, is not anticipated to delay normal arrival processing.
  • Auxiliary power units (APUs) may remain on while radiation checks are conducted on aircraft entering the country, as long as the exhaust vents for those units are eight feet above the ground or higher. Aircraft with APU exhaust outlets lower than eight feet may still need to shut down, but power may be maintained through use of ground power units.

For more information or to provide additional feedback, contact the NBAA Operations Service Group at (202) 783-9451 or [email protected].