A new day for global air cargo security
They call the October 2010 terrorist bomb hidden inside a shipment of printer cartridges air cargo’s “9-11.” That’s because, although the flight from Yemen to the U.S was thwarted, the threat nevertheless shook the air cargo industry around the globe.
“It taught us that 100 percent physical screening of all packages does not equate to 100 percent security,” says Brandon Fried, executive director of The Airforwarders Association in Washington, D.C. “Knowing who is doing the shipping and receiving of the cargo plays a vital role in assessing possible threats as well.”
Not only did the failed plot teach the industry that 100 percent physical screening of all packages does not equate to 100 percent security; it ushered in policy changes and processes that impact air cargo screening worldwide today.
Those include the recent U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mandate that all cargo shipments loaded on passenger aircraft undergo screening for explosives, effective Dec. 3, 2012, and the European Commission’s EC Regulation 859/2011, mandated in September 2011 that requires, for the first time, security controls at source, before the cargo arrives in the EU.
“These harmonized agreements constitute 80 percent of the cargo coming into the United States,” Fried says. “For the remaining portion, TSA now requires airlines to screen the cargo to its standards before boarding the flight at the last point of departure into the United States.”
Such measures require that carriers get on board with more programs. Most air cargo executives welcome the effort. Case in point: Emirates has been in compliance with the TSA security requirements well ahead of the deadline.
“Strict security measures have always been paramount on all of our routes,” says Ram Menen, divisional senior vice president, Cargo, Emirates Air Line. “Although most multi-national freight forwarders tend to have security protocols in place, we require all cargo to be screened before acceptance for carriage.”
Similarly, TSA’s December 2012 regulation had a minimal impact on Korean Air’s operation since Korea’s government already enforced 100 percent X-ray screening for all cargo on passenger planes departing from Korea.
“Airlines are already involved with cargo screening activities at the terminal,” says Dim Dong Hoon, team leader of the Cargo Service Team Korean Air.
Korean Air, however, faces extra costs and decreased efficiencies in terms of operational service from the additional screening activities for transit cargo going to U.S. “Re-screening transit cargo makes ground handling activities take longer, which makes prompt flight connections difficult,” Hoon says.
A number of U.S. carriers worked closely with TSA for several years to put measures in place prior to the December 2012 deadline so as not to impede the movement of goods through the supply chain.
“This helped because we already had processes in place that we were able to build on to have 100 percent screening prior to the deadline,” says Derek Duiser, manager Cargo Security, Delta Air Lines.
While there are concerns that not all of the requirements and systems worldwide are aligned with international standards, governments worldwide are warming up to harmonized and aligned security measures.
In February 2011, for example, the TSA recognized the French National Cargo Security Program, then later programs in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Effective June 1, 2011, the US and Canadian governments eliminated the double screening of cargo on passenger aircraft traveling between the U.S. and Canada. On June 1, 2012 a declaration was signed between the TSA and the EC for an air cargo security partnership with the EU and Switzerland.
Robbie Anderson, president United Cargo, points out that a significant amount of the cargo carried by United is impacted by National Cargo Security Program agreements
“This allows us to follow one security program and screening protocol, and in some cases moves the screening to an earlier point in the secure supply chain – which lessens the tendency for `choke points’ to form at airport points of tender,” he says.