U.S. imposes long-awaited advance screening rules for inbound air cargo

After nearly eight years of starts, stops and delays, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has finally implemented its much-debated Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) program, requiring all carriers of commercial cargo to report electronic airfreight data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before the cargo is loaded onto aircraft bound for the United States.

According to CBP, the ACAS program is intended “to address ongoing aviation security threats,” and has been tested in a long-running pilot project, in which certain carriers participated voluntarily in submitting air cargo data, such as the air waybill number, the shipper’s name and address, the consignee’s name and address, and a short description of the cargo, including its quantity and weight.

The ACAS pilot, CBP said, has been successful in enabling customs agents “to identify a substantial amount of high-risk cargo,” the department wrote in the rulemaking. “Significantly, CBP has identified a substantial number of air cargo shipments that have potential ties to terrorism and, therefore, may represent a threat.”

Most carriers and forwarders applaud the extra layer of security to ensure that another terrorist plot – such as the thwarted 2010 attempt to blow up a passenger jet with bombs that were loaded into belly cargo holds in Yemen – can never happen again. However, it remains to be seen how much the new regulations will cost the industry in terms of time and cost for the extra scanning equipment needed.

The CBP added that it will be “flexible” in enforcing the ACAS program over the next 12 months, to allow inbound carriers and forwarders to adjust.

DHS also said it is inviting affected parties to provide feedback on the rule, which must be submitted between now and August 13.

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