India will start using full-body scanners to screen passengers at the international airport here on a trial basis from May and decide by the end of the Commonwealth Games in October who will get the multi-million dollar contract to supply such equipment.
Currently security checks at airports include pat-down searches, door frame metal detectors and hand-held device scans. But these can mainly detect metals and not non-metallic objects that can be kept hidden in one's underwear like the one carried by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian passenger, on a North-Western airline from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas.
The plastic explosives Abdulmutallab concealed in his underwear failed to detonate properly, resulting only in flames and popping sounds.
As part of the process to strengthen security, all ground staff and airline officials will be issued biometric identification cards from March with dedicated points to gain entry into Delhi airport, said a top official in the civil aviation ministry.
"This is a secure and efficient means of identification," the official said, explaining that the biometric card will have an embedded micro-chip incorporating some tamper-proof features of an individual that will be virtually impossible to forge.
"It will have an individual's unique physical traits such as fingerprint, the pattern of the iris, facial features. Given the era we live in, biometric procedures in the aviation sector is essential," the official told IANS, requesting complete anonymity.
Around 30,000 people work at airports daily, including the security personnel, and the process of biometric cards will cost no more than Rs 10 million.
Speaking about body scanners, which has left people worried over intrusion into their privacy because of its potential to scan through clothes, the official said there was no cause for worry and the government has already decided to introduce the scanners.
"We need around 125-200 full-body scanners for Delhi and Mumbai. These are our busiest. The trials will run through the end of the Commonwealth Games. These scanners cost between Rs 8 million and Rs 10 million apiece ($160,000-$200,000)," the official said.
He said trial runs will not only give the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, the nodal agency to frame security standards at airports, a constructive insight into functioning of equipment but also which company is suited best to be given the order.
"Only a handful of countries like the US, Britain, France and Israel manufacture these scanners. Most of the scanners on trial here will be from US companies. The trials will also help us assess performance during power fluctuations or outages."
The official also sought to allay apprehensions that the full-body scanners that will be deployed at airports will compromise an individual's right to privacy and modesty, as they have the provision to convert the images into graphics.
"At Amsterdam's Schipol Airport, the scanners are retrofitted with a software that only projects a stylized human figure on to the computer rather than the actual body image," he said, adding 15 such scanners were in use with plans for 60 more.