Working Overtime: How air cargo is adapting to ACAS, ELD rules

It’s the second day of the two-to-three business days your customer was told to expect to wait for the critical machine parts delivery. You’d promised the factory owner that the parts that would keep the production line running would arrive by Monday, and now you’re starting to sweat a little.

You’re based in Germany and your American customer is in the New England area. Logging into your business management software, you receive a notification that the customer has messaged you, and is worried about the status of the delivery. You had already tried to placate his fears by linking him to your track-and-trace platform, but the only information it provides is that the machine parts are “in transit.” You glance at your calendar and wonder if you should have promised him his cargo would arrive no later than the Monday afternoon shift.

Little do you know that the shipment was flagged in the first leg of its journey before boarding, and missed a Lufthansa flight to New York’s JFK Airport out of Frankfurt Airport yesterday. The forwarder was just notified by the airport, and the parts will now have to undergo an inspection to be cleared by security before it can be loaded onto the next flight, which could take hours or days – and that’s all before it crosses the pond. Then, it will be transported to a distribution center, wait to be sorted and finally enter the correct truck, which will take it to the factory on Tuesday – meaning the production would have to be idled on Monday evening.

You may soon have one less customer to worry about.

The shipment being held up in this nightmare scenario came about as a result of an initiative by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), both of which have been working with the logistics industry since 2010 to form stricter regulations for all cargo bound for the United States. After years of slow progress, the Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) pilot launched in June of this year, requiring carriers entering the U.S. to provide a laundry list of information – a description of the cargo, the air waybill number, shipper and consignee names and addresses, and its quantity and weight, in order to more strictly monitor cargo originating outside of U.S. borders.

The formation of these regulations was a response to an incident in October 2010, in which two boxed-up HP laser printers from Yemen were flagged – one in England and one in the United Arab Emirates. Each was found to contain more than 300 grams of plastic explosives hidden inside their respective printer cartridge compartments – more than enough to bring down a jumbo jet.

The array of regulations by which logistics players abide can affect every link in the supply chain, from air to land, and the ACAS requirements aren’t the only new regulatory standards that logistics players have had to contend with this year. The industry is similarly buzzing about the federally mandated electronic logging device (ELD) now required for commercial trucks traveling for more than 100 miles. These two federal mandates went into effect six months apart – the ELD mandate in December 2017 and the pilot for the ACAS requirements in June 2018.

Such regulations are designed with the goal of ensuring the safe transportation of people and cargo, but can inadvertently make the transportation of goods a more difficult and time-consuming process. In an industry where timeliness is the bare minimum, are regulations in the North American airfreight market making it difficult for forwarders and carriers to do their jobs?

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