The Air Cargo Caucus: Our friend in Washington

Brandon Fried, executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association

It’s no secret that air cargo remains a challenging and competitive market. In an industry faced with disruptors and increasing supply chain demands, agility is essential to maintain airfreight’s speed and commercial advantage. Several members of the U.S. Congress who seem to understand this value are now formally coming together on Capitol Hill to spread the word and hopefully deliver the awareness in Washington our business surely needs.

Industry stakeholders know that air cargo has played an essential role in our global economy since aviation began. Airfreight accounts for 35% of world trade value carried by air and directly employs hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States. Therefore, the industry recently welcomed news of the establishment of the Air Cargo Caucus, chaired by Rep. Sherry Bustos (D-Ill.) and co-chaired with Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.).

The goal of the Air Cargo Caucus is to spur collaboration in Congress on cargo-related issues and facilitate discussion by holding meetings, site visits and issue briefings. The caucus launched with 35 members of Congress from both parties and 19 states. At its initial meeting, Rep. Bustos said that the Caucus would create a platform for our nation’s leaders to share best practices and connect with folks across America. She hopes that the Air Cargo Caucus will foster relationships that lead to partnerships, and thus create more jobs and economic opportunity for her region around the Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD).

Air cargo stakeholders, including the U.S. Airforwarders Association, received news of the newly founded Caucus with both relief and optimism. Many feel that laws and regulations coming from Washington, D.C., impacting the airfreight industry get made by people who don’t understand the business. This Caucus hopes to rectify that issue, allowing legislators to gain a better understanding of the air cargo industry, as a whole, while simultaneously enhancing relations with those in the industry itself.

Once the introductory phase of the new caucus is complete, freight forwarders, passenger airlines, and cargo carriers will assist in educating congressional representatives. In addition to one-on-one meetings with members, we expect that facilitation meetings between the cargo community and congressional staff, as well as site visits to facilities nationwide, will become a caucus priority.

As the Trump administration enters its third year in office, the President pledged to improve American infrastructure. While we expect this initiative, of course, to include ports, highways, bridges and tunnels, airports should be an essential component as well. Our aging gateway airports now handle e-commerce-propelled freight volumes that exceed 40% beyond expectations. Many cities still depend on airport-area road systems and facilities that were designed more than 50 years ago and need updating to ease the truck congestion now prevalent at airfields throughout the nation. Therefore, an essential field trip for Air Cargo Caucus Congressional members should be a tour of these congested facilities to understand the problem firsthand.

A less glamorous but still critical issue for the air cargo industry is the growing cybersecurity threat. Airlines, airports and the entire cargo industry rely on internal, complex computer networks as their operational backbone. However, all of this connectivity provides an open door for malicious intruders. Potentially successful attacks can cripple the aviation industry, leaving passengers and cargo stranded. The adverse impact on our nation’s economy could be devastating, and the caucus is an ideal opportunity for Congress to draft sensible legislation that protects the industry from this threat.

The last Congress did much of the heavy lifting for air cargo in the recently passed FAA Reauthorization legislation. Thanks to Capitol Hill, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) must now establish an air cargo security office to coordinate both government and private air cargo security efforts. The agency must also conduct a pilot program to expand the use of 3D imaging technology to improve air cargo screening. Private, third-party canine teams are also now allowed to screen shipments while TSA is expected to report on improvements to the Certified Cargo Screening Program.

Once TSA fulfills its obligations under the law, members of Congress will receive several reports from the agency. Hopefully, those involved in the Air Cargo Caucus will have received a valuable education on the airfreight industry before that time. Their insight should provide effective communication to the remainder of Congress as it takes future regulatory authorization steps to enhance sensible air cargo oversight.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the air cargo industry has spent thousands of hours working with regulatory agencies throughout Washington towards developing an effective security policy.

Congress has been an essential team member in this valuable work, which continues to protect millions of passengers and cargo shipments that keep our nation’s commerce moving. The new Congressional Air Cargo Caucus represents the continuation of this progress by educating those responsible for paving the road ahead.

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