Our cargo hubs, where routes connect and transfers are made, are at the heart of our supply chain. As we tackle the many challenges facing our industry – from the threat of modal shift to the changing security landscape, to the need to remain competitive and to grow – the way we process cargo at these hubs will need to continually improve.
This must be done while we provide physical security for the products we manage and ensure the proper handling for increasing volumes of a wide range of temperature-sensitive products. Adding further to this challenge is the need to provide more accurate and timely information to our customers, which requires better sharing of data between carriers, regulated agents/forwarders and ground handlers. On top of this, we will see a continuing need to provide information to customs and civil aviation regulators.
It’s a tall order, and it would be difficult enough if every shipment was handled by a single party, end-to-end. Of course, that’s not reality, so the role of the cargo hub becomes even more critical. As we focus on gaining efficiencies in the physical transfer processes, information and service sharing and specialized services – all of which are essential – we can, without a doubt, achieve our objectives of improving service and meeting the demands we face.
But there is one wild card that can potentially trump all of these efforts, and that card is aviation security.
We can build all the operational and informational efficiencies imaginable, but if global regulators, both customs and civil aviation, cannot agree on common security processes, standardized screening equipment and protocols, or the risk-based analyses that will determine which shipments will need to be screened, all of our other efforts will be for naught.
We are currently facing this reality, with the still fully unaligned Pre-Loading Advance Cargo Information (PLACI) systems moving from pilots to regulatory measures. A great deal of work has been done within the joint International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and World Customs Organization (WCO) working group, but the EU is now moving ahead with implementing and delegating acts to begin next year.
In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is preparing its notification of public rulemaking (NPRM). This will require, among other things, submitting to the destination authority the “7+1” data elements for each individual shipment for risk analysis to determine whether to screen as a “high-risk” shipment.
The challenge with these programs is not so much one for import shipments. They will have been addressed already, prior to uplift at origin. With advance information provided to customs officials, they may actually be cleared faster. The challenge is what to do with all of the shipments transiting the hub – especially those that are transferring between carriers or arriving by ground transport from elsewhere for uplift.
Regulators working on PLACI regimes have yet to resolve a common risk-analysis algorithm, so the country in which the hub operates may well have approved a shipment coming in, not deeming it high risk, but the downstream country authority may then apply different risk-analysis rules with a different result.
In addition, regulators have yet to determine what screening measures will apply if or when a shipment is identified as high risk. Will it be the protocols used by the country in which the hub operates? ICAO standards? Or will it be the rules required by the country making the second risk determination?
What this means is that much of the security part of the equation really needs to be part of a virtual hub. Measures taken upstream from a transit hub (air-to-air, ground-to-air) need to be standardized, commonly implemented and fully inclusive of all participants in the supply chain, including shippers wherever possible. But we still have a wide variation in categorizing shippers themselves, and attaching subsequent security values to them.
Countries utilize categories such as known consignor, regulated shipper, known shipper, trusted shipper and certified shipper among others, and even these categories are not applied commonly.
As we move forward, shippers may be asked to be more active participants in the security of the supply chain, to help ensure smooth transit. Standardizing these categories will go a long way towards streamlining the risk evaluation of each shipment.
If we fail to standardize, no matter how operationally slick the cargo hubs of the future may be, we are at risk of losing all efficiencies with shipments awaiting multiple security measures at the instruction of destination downstream authorities, and also with operators opening ULDs to pull out specific shipments for additional security screening.
As we work to increase operational efficiencies at our hubs, our parallel efforts to increase regulatory efficiency remain just as important to our future growth and profitability.
Get more air cargo insights at the 2015 Cargo Facts Symposium, Oct. 26-28 in Miami. Click here for details.