After years of discussion and delays, the Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) program was finally launched in June, requiring carriers entering the United States to provide all information about the cargo – including the air waybill number, shipper and consignee names and addresses, a description of the cargo, quantity and weight – to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before the aircraft arrives.
The ACAS program will be mandatory for all shippers, forwarders and carriers that are carrying airfreight into the U.S., but the CBP is allowing a nine- to twelve-month grace period before enforcement begins. That would give the members of the supply chain until roughly spring of 2019 to make sure they digitalize their operations in time.
To prepare carriers and forwarders for ACAS, a pilot project has been running since 2011 to work out any kinks in operations. IT firm CHAMP Cargosystems was able to join the pilot at the start of 2018 when it released its new Traxon Global Security (TGS) platform for its customer carrier, MNG Airlines, based in Turkey.
Soon after the final ACAS rule was issued, Air Cargo World spoke with Emanuel Hille, CHAMP’s director of e-cargo solutions, about his experiences with MNG and the TGS platform, and what still needs to be done before the ACAS mandate can be met.
Q: What are the toughest obstacles to complying with ACAS?
Emanuel Hille: On one hand there is the issue of managing the information flow. The screening information has to be sent earlier in the process. Operators of a smaller size or those who haven’t been participating in the pilot may need to get their electronic data ahead of time to ACAS. Carriers, in fact, might not want to accept cargo that has not been pre-declared or pre-screened. Some operators used to be able to send the paper air waybill document, but now they may want to have a smooth process and go electronic. The carriers need to organize their internal processes and their workforce in order to handle off-loads or whatever might happen. The forwarder or carrier will have to more cautiously think about how they consolidate loads.
Q: How is CHAMP trying to solve these potential problems?
EH: Traxon Global Security is a onestop-shop solution with a dashboard, where you clearly see the declaration status and all the shipments that have a referral. You see an arrow – you can set up rules whereby shipments that require attention will be sent an email to interested parties, depending on their status. You can share the status with either the handling agent, if you are a carrier, or with your management team. ACAS has no formal channel, as such, to give feedback information. The airline or handler or forwarder can choose to upload documents to commence and then send them. TGS makes [the documents] visible to all the users with a specific role so you can see who’s in the organization, and obviously you have an audit trail.
Q: What did you learn from the pilot project?
EH: By using the system, the forwarders and carriers gave us feedback. What we saw is that airlines did address their processes to make sure that the data are consistently good quality. As they organized themselves to provide the data, it became much better over time. At the end, we sensed that e-mail exchanges were not sufficient when it comes to the day-to-day use of the product. We decided an alert function would capture your attention more quickly, because you don’t want to search through a large e-mail in-box; you want it immediately and share the information very quickly. So we added alerts to inform handling agents immediately and automatically without a human being interacting.
Q: Will there be change happening with ACAS during the grace period?
EH: On a technical basis, I don’t think there are issues to be addressed. I think the challenge is more on the operators’ side to actually realize they need to adjust their organization – to adjust processes. They need to think, “What do I do if I receive a shipment which hasn’t been cleared?” The service providers, like CHAMP, can help facilitate, but the trade partners need to be aware that change in an organization needs much more time than the implementation of the system itself.
Q: For those late to digitalization, which segment will bear the heaviest burden?
EH: I sense there’s more burden on the handling agents and carriers. But the forwarders, if they want to have a smooth operation and make sure their shipments flow, they have an incentive to also do their part reporting to ACAS. Then they’ll know the likelihood of a shipment suddenly being put on hold is much lower than if you didn’t do the clearing. They will certainly want to make sure there is no disruption. It will also be harder for those who only occasionally export to the U.S. They need to determine whether they need to find another party that has more experience with customs.
Q: What’s the next step for CHAMP’s TGS?
EH: The TGS platform is not yet active, but we have worked with about 10 customers so far, and there are many others being lined up. ACAS has asked some of the Middle East carriers to also participate in ACAS earlier this year, so we did also win some of those, as well. We’re also in very close contact with the ACAS Group if there’s any change coming in the future.