The Cargo Conundrum Part II

Last August, in accordance with a congressional mandate in the 9/11 Act, the aviation industry met the deadline for screening 100 percent of cargo on passenger aircraft departing an airport in the United States. Central to meeting the deadline was the TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Program, a voluntary program that allows participants to screen cargo further up the supply chain.

The TSA worked closely with airline and airport associations, including ACI-NA, to create the program. Participants range from shippers to freight forwarders and Certified Cargo Screening Facilities, which screen cargo from smaller shippers or forwarders that do not participate in program. The first certified facility, Mercury Air Cargo, is located at Los Angeles International Airport.

During a congressional hearing last year, to assess progress in meeting the air cargo screening deadline, TSA executives testified that cargo on international passenger flights inbound to the U.S. would not be 100 percent screened until the latter part of 2013. The challenge is significant in that around 3 billion pounds of cargo arrives in the U.S. each year on passenger flights from around 95 different countries. Therefore, TSA has been working with individual countries to strengthen cargo security standards.

Cargo to be transported on international wide-body aircraft typically arrives at airports as consolidated shipments – with multiple smaller shipments from different shippers – loaded in containers or unit load devices or banded to skids. In the absence of technology to efficiently and effectively screen large shipments, the requirement to break down this type of cargo for piece-level screening, as stipulated in the 9/11 Act, is a very time consuming, manpower intensive and costly.

With the disruption last October of the terrorist plot to blow up all-cargo aircraft with explosives hidden in printer cartridges in cargo shipments destined for the U.S., TSA has been working with passenger and all-cargo airlines to further enhance cargo security. Through the recent issuance of a proposed change to passenger airline security programs, TSA intends to move the deadline for screening 100 percent inbound international cargo on passenger planes destined for the U.S. up by two years to this coming December.

While significant, the challenge associated with meeting the new deadline will not be quite as daunting since TSA previously required airlines to increase the screening percentage of inbound international cargo. In addition, many airlines, in preparation for an eventual increase in the screening percentage, purchased cargo-screening equipment and initiated programs to voluntarily screen more cargo.

Through its participation on industry air cargo security working groups, ACI-NA will advocate for risk-based measures that ensure the appropriate levels of air cargo security while preserving the efficiencies that are so critical to the system. As a key contributor to the economics of airports and to the U.S. economy, ACI-NA expressed – during a recent meeting with government representatives – the need to preserve the smooth flow of cargo through airports.

Contact ACI-NA’s Christopher Bidwell for more information.