An expert’s take on air cargo screening

A prominent air cargo security expert shared some insight with LM about the TSA's new December deadline for 100 percent cargo screening on international inbound flights to the U.S.

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When the United States Department of Homeland Security recently announced that it set a December 3, 2012 deadline, which requires passenger air carriers to conduct 100 percent cargo screening on international inbound flights, it did not necessarily come as a surprise.

The reason for the lack of a surprise is that these types of deadlines have been routinely pushed back over the years. While the reasons vary, one thing remains constant in that the focus is always on safety, which really goes without saying.

As LM reported at the time of TSA announcing the deadline extension, the original deadline for 100 percent cargo screening on international U.S.-bound flights was December 31, 2011, but TSA pushed it back last October. TSA spokesman Jim Fotenos told LM the new December 3, 2012 deadline is firm and will allow the air cargo industry to screen U.S.-bound cargo by that date.

TSA’s screening requirements for these flights “builds additional risk-based, intelligence-driven procedures into the prescreening process to determine screening protocols on a per-shipment basis. This process, said TSA, requires enhanced screening for shipments designated as higher risk, while lower risk shipments will undergo other physical screening protocols.”

When I was hitting the phones and pinging contacts after TSA released this news, I heard back from Albert Saphir, principal of ABS Consulting, in Bradenton, Florida. Given his tremendous insight and experience when it comes to transportation security, and really all things logistics, Albert had a lot of interesting things to say about this deadline extension.

But since it was after my deadline, I decided that this space would make for a nice home for Albert’s comments (fair editorial warning: you may see them re-purposed down the road at some point!)

“I expect that all airlines departing for a U.S. airport of destination will therefore soon require additional advance data (at house air waybill level detail) several hours prior to departure,” Saphir said. “CBP and TSA have also been working with some of the very large global air freight forwarders to determine methods on how those forwarders could transmit the required data directly to CBP/TSA targeting system in an effort to reduce the potential ‘bottleneck’ with airlines receiving a tremendous amount of additional data prior to the deadline for submission to CBP/TSA.

Saphir pointed out that some foreign governments have considerable air cargo security programs already, and a few of them—maybe 5-7, out of the 97 countries which have direct flights to the USA currently, he estimated—have already signed mutual agreements with the US/TSA.  So for flights originating in those countries the he said airlines will continue to do what they are instructed to do in the departing country today.

None of this is easy, especially when one notes, as Saphir does, that this is and unfunded mandate by Congress, and it will be up to the airlines to figure out how to do this, as with luck the U.S. may get 15-20 of the 97 countries on board by December with MOU’s.

“The way I see this, it will be a combination of advance data (ACAS – similar to ISF, basically much earlier than the current Air AMS data and more detail) and physical/x-ray/EDT screening that airlines will need to perform overseas,” said Saphir. “TSA cannot regulate foreign freight forwarders like they can here under the voluntary CCSF program.  Thus it will be up to the airlines to figure out how they can get a few key freight forwarding customers involved as their agent to perform any pre-screening etc.

And the subsequent impact on shippers and other supply chain stakeholders?

Saphir explained that it will most certainly add a few hours to the current cut-off times at origin, plus also additional cost, something similar akin to what is in place for passenger air cargo screening here on flights departing from U.S. airports.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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