For air cargo security, the past is prologue

Air cargo security has come a long way since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which turned the tools of transportation and commerce into weapons of mass destruction. Until September 11, the only form of security in the United States was an unregulated program in which airlines screened shippers to make sure they and their products were legitimate. The Known Senders Program was enhanced after September 11 and remains in effect. Today, a shipper must be known to the carrier in order to load cargo on a passenger flight departing from the United States. In addition, freight must always be controlled in one form or another.

Over the past two decades, security has evolved into a multi-layered process, in line with the desire of regulators to build more redundancies and protections into the regime. The geographical scope of surveillance has been widened and the chain of custody pushed as far upstream as possible with the construction of Certified Cargo Control Facilities. These are federally regulated and designed to screen goods before they arrive at the airport and become the responsibility of airlines, which faced pressures on flight schedules and were often forced to screen in a common facility on the grounds of each airport.

In mid-2018, the Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) program, which encouraged airlines serving the United States from foreign points to provide shipment information to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before the goods are not shipped originally, has become mandatory. It was the legacy of a 2010 incident when two shipments of printers from Yemen, each containing sophisticated explosives, were intercepted by authorities before the bombs could explode over American cities.

Today there are multiple screening methods, from hand searches to x-ray techniques to bomb sniffer dogs. These are in high demand – though rare – because they can quickly identify explosives inside containers that might be too bulky for x-ray machines or manual labor to examine.

Demand for K-9 screening services increased until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) July 1 deadline to screen all exports traveling on all-cargo flights. Some clients were able to obtain dogs months before the warrant’s effective date. However, others waited until the deadline was over them before taking action and had no dogs when the warrant arrived.

All the freight, all the checking, all the time

The cargo control mandate is a sign of the security challenges ahead. While the industry has had time to prepare, compliance has always proved difficult for some to handle, especially as all-cargo services were inundated with demand after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Significantly reduced international flights of passengers whose bellies carry about half of the world’s air cargo.

The burden of screening fell on all-cargo carriers and service providers known as ground handlers who shuttle containers around airport property. Already blocked by business, the airlines found it difficult to keep up with the control work. Applicants for groundhandling jobs face lengthy security clearance background checks, said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Air Forwarders Association, which represents freight forwarders. As a result, they are not hired on time or they end up looking for work elsewhere, he said.

Arthur G. Arway, longtime head of transportation security and logistics, said the warrant had “screwed things up.” According to Arway, the goods have “stacked from floor to ceiling” in warehouses, where they often sit for days or weeks. This is particularly problematic for air freight, as the mode carries urgent or high-value goods that need to be shipped quickly.

Flight delays are costly for the sender, receiver and airline. According to a May 2019 study by Science Direct, a unit of the Dutch publishing house Elsevier, cargo flight delays related to late deliveries reached $ 38,000 per flight hour, far more than the costs of delayed passengers. .

In addition, unlike passenger airlines which, under normal circumstances, can perform hundreds or even thousands of daily flights, all-cargo frequencies are limited; in some lanes there may be only one flight per day. That doesn’t leave much room for flexibility if a plane has to take off without cargo that hasn’t been checked.

Arway said airlines don’t like to take on screening duties. However, they accept the burden because their assets are at risk, he said. Airlines are “pushing back like crazy” for TSA to hire as many participants as possible, he said.

Stephen A. Alterman, executive director of the Cargo Airline Association, said its members are “managing” during the transition period. “I emailed a few days ago asking for all the bad news,” Alterman said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I didn’t get anything back. Alterman assumed its limbs’ problems are manageable because they don’t have a large number of frequencies to deal with.

Around mid-June, TSA came up with another plan to develop secure facilities where heavy users like e-commerce processors could bypass the filtering requirement. The initiative raised questions about whether large companies like Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) were granted preferential treatment. The plan also proved to be logistically unfeasible, said Alterman, who did not provide details due to its confidential nature. Michael White, who runs his own cargo security consultancy and was chairman of Cargo Network Services, a unit of the International Air Transport Association representing U.S. air cargo interests, said he was at current from any company that has subscribed to the program.

Attempts to reach John Beckius, TSA’s cargo security chief, were unsuccessful. At a FreightWaves virtual event last November, Beckius called the new regulations a “game changer” for the industry. “We always want to optimize and improve the capabilities of the industry in the area of ​​cargo screening,” he said. “Whether it’s helping the industry with in-house testing techniques, or better testing methods, or even training, we want to look for ways to increase skills to make sure we’re doing our best. better to find potential threats. “

Each country works from a safety model created by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and adapts a program to its needs. Many countries have implemented a “known shipper” initiative where their governments regulate air shippers but exempt their cargo from screening because they have already met the most stringent safety requirements. According to Alterman, such a proposal would fail in the United States, as every company that ships by air would be regulated. The Air Forwarders Association wants the TSA to consider the program because it would allow the agency to certify and verify the strict compliance of shippers. However, Fried said he wasn’t holding his breath at the idea of ​​it becoming law.

The lack of a global standard is an obstacle to enhanced security, but it is not a decisive decision, said Shawn C. Beddows, who spent 17 years at US Customs and its successor agency. , CBP, and led cargo security for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) before joining the private sector last year as vice president of global services for CT Strategies, a security consulting firm . For example, countries use much of the same x-ray and related equipment that has been approved by ICAO, Beddows said. Beyond a certain degree of uniformity, it would be unrealistic to expect each country to read on the same security page because their needs, wishes, ideologies and policies are so different, he said. .

E-commerce, the next big challenge

Perhaps the greatest structural change to come for air cargo security is the rapid emergence and proliferation of international electronic commerce, with almost all intercontinental components of this activity moving by air. The transactional nature of e-commerce, with random buyers and sellers committing thousands of miles apart, obsolete the relationship-driven philosophy behind the 25-year-old Known Sender Program in the United States. years, White said. Customer expectations for one to two day deliveries will pose additional challenges for security regimes, experts said.

In an email, Beddows said efforts to balance secure shipping and e-commerce flows should “focus on (the) upstream enforcement of security measures by trusted entities and implementation of mutual recognition agreements “which alleviate the need to repeatedly provide data elements satisfactory to customs authorities and inspectors.

In this new and very different environment, the ability to organize and optimize large amounts of data is the only way to ensure that proper security protocols are in place, White said. However, the TSA does not have the technological expertise to extract value from the data and does not use the data it collects. In contrast, CBP is a heavy data user, has strong in-house computing capabilities, and has worked with freight for much longer than the 19-year-old TSA, White said. In response to congressional demands to possibly remove the known shippers program, TSA officials said they would leave it as it is, he said.

White went so far as to say that TSA should not be managing cargo security and that those functions should migrate entirely to CBP. As it stands, the agency systems do not interact with each other and the agencies themselves do not communicate with each other, he said. The latter is a bizarre reminder of a key part of the 9/11 Commission report, which blamed part of the blame for the disaster on the government’s inability to share relevant information.

“Why do we have two superimposed agencies looking at the same things? Said Blanc.

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