A new air cargo security protocol enacted by the European Union on July 1 is threatening to create a trade war with Russia.
Regulation EU 1082 stipulates that an airline can only transport cargo into an EU member state if its airport operation at the final point of departure for Europe has been certified by an independent validator as meeting required security standards.
Airlines know the regulation as ACC3 (“air cargo or mail carrier operating into the EU from a third country airport”). Intra-EU movements are exempt.
Airport handling facilities in three countries that are in the European Economic Area, but are not EU members – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – are assumed to be compliant with the regulation, as is Switzerland, which is outside the EEA but has a similar agreement with the EU.
Also exempted are 12 additional countries assessed as having safe procedures and appearing on an EU green list, which includes the U.S., China and Japan.
Airlines' facilities at all other airports with direct connections to EU countries must now undergo an audit by a validator, who is accredited by an EU member state. Validators assess aspects such as perimeter fencing and cargo screening procedures.
The International Air Transport Association, the sole authorized trainer of validators at its headquarters in Geneva, estimates that more than 1,000 locations worldwide are affected. IATA is pressing the European Commission for information on how many locations have so far been certified, but Mike Woodall, IATA’s project leader, independent validation and regulatory engagement, says no figures have yet been provided.
Following the completion of IATA's latest course last week, Woodall told Air Cargo World that 100 validators have now been trained, of whom 95 have been accredited by their national regulatory authorities and are ready to conduct assessments.
While this number may sound low, Woodall pointed out that in many cases, a validator can assess multiple airlines and handlers during a single visit to an airport. A handler or forwarder providing screened or secured cargo to carriers can apply for EU validation in its own right, avoiding the need for multiple inspections on behalf of each carrier, and thus becomes RA3 certified (referring to "regulated agents in third countries").
The majority of carriers serving Europe either fulfilled the requirements ahead of the regulation's entry into force or, where they were validated close to the deadline, may have suffered from backlogs within national regulators themselves, Woodall says. The workload fell disproportionately among EU member states, and the harder-pressed jurisdictions, such as Germany, "may be sitting on hundreds of validation reports," he said. In these cases, temporary clearance has been granted.
Woodall is not aware of any immediate effect on cargo flows in respect to those carriers that have not yet been certified at all points of origin. "No one has been told, 'You can't bring in your cargo.' The regulators have accepted 'objective reasons,' problems beyond a carrier's control, which have prevented some from complying with the new requirements," he says.
In some cases, a reluctant third country may have denied a validator an entry visa, or denied access to screening facilities. But even where an airline could put forward no objective reason for non-compliance, he says, "There has been no guillotine. The authorities at the point of entry into the EU have taken a reasonable, adult approach, asking carriers what are their plans, milestones and timelines to achieve compliance."
The new rules were drawn up following the failed Yemeni printer cartridge bomb plot in 2010. The issue for Russian carriers flying cargo into Europe, such as Volga-Dnepr, Aeroflot and Transaero, is that Russia is not on the EU's green safe country list. Facilities at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, the main hub for Volga-Dnepr Group's AirBridgeCargo (ABC) and Atran subsidiaries, therefore need certification under EU 1082.
This clearly rankles the Russian government, which argues its airlines and airports meet the existing security standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The country's ambassador to the EU stated to a news agency that it "does not intend to undertake additional inspections."
This standoff threatens a significant and fast-growing trade lane. Russia exported US$6.2 billion (4.5 billion euros) worth of goods to EU destinations by air in 2013 and its airfreight imports were almost double this figure at US$11.8 billion (8.6 billion euros).
Russia's Ministry of Transport is reported to have requested talks with the European Commission. If no compromise is reached, at a time when political tensions are already running high thanks to the crisis in Ukraine, there are fears of retaliatory measures against carriers operating into Russia from or via the EU.
“Volga-Dnepr Airlines continues its operations to European countries in the ordinary course,” Andrey Matveev, corporate communications director for Volga-Dnepr Group, tells Air Cargo World. “The company sent the ACC3 status request to LBA [the German civil aviation administration], the authority in charge for oversight of VDA's European operations, in order to extend the period of mandatory compliance with EC requirements by at least half a year, as there remain certain discrepancies between Russian and European law in this area."
Confirming the granting of a six-month grace period, Woodall says, "We understand that the Russian authorities and the EC are continuing their discussions. Our position is clear. We don't want our members to be penalized if they are caught in the middle of a political dialogue."
Russia is not the only country to express concern about Europe's unilateral action.
Woodall says EC representatives were recently forced to travel to Senegal for a meeting with the African Civil Aviation Commission, which IATA also attended. "There was recognition from the [European] Commission that its communication strategy could have been better. There is now a greater level of understanding," he says.
IATA acknowledges that the new rules may be seen as an imposition in countries where the country itself carries out air cargo screening. It is encouraging government representatives to attend carrier validations to allay their concerns.
For their part, EU validators must accept that they are guests of foreign governments and have no automatic right of entry, Woodall concludes. "But they are not inspecting a state or an airport. They are not there to judge but are simply fact-finding, gathering evidence on individual carriers' arrangements."