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New TSA air cargo requirements have potential to slow commerce, say experts

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
April 08, 2011

Last month the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released an air cargo security update which is likely to have an impact on air cargo moving from non-U.S. locations inbound to the U.S., according to a report from the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL).

According to the TSA update cited in the NITL report, U.S. airfreight forwarders, U.S. air cargo operators, foreign air carriers, and foreign air cargo air carriers will be requesting information for all shipments on each master airway bill that they accept for transportation from a non U.S. location to the U.S. This information will include shipper account history that TSA said is necessary for an aircraft operator to determine what security measures they must apply in accordance with their Security Directive or Emergency Amendment.

This directive follows a late January update by the TSA stated it is looking to accelerate the deadline for screening United States-bound air cargo to December 31, 2011, which would be well ahead of the previous deadline of 2013 previously laid out by TSA, based on a June 2010 testimony by TSA Assistant Administrator John Sammon.

Some air cargo stakeholders told LM that the March directive from TSA was unexpected.

“TSA’s announcement was a bit of a surprise,” said Richard Fisher, president of Boston-based Falcon Global Edge. “The security directives from TSA have been issued to the air carriers-not the indirect air carriers-so we have that issue we are wrestling with and the short answer is we are still working with them.

While TSA cannot go into a foreign jurisdiction and tell them what to do, Fisher said they can to a certain extent when it comes to U.S. flight carriers but not with international flight carriers.  He added that it is a very difficult situation in which TSA may be looking for a little bit of political coverage due to the deadline to reach 100 pct for international inbound air cargo.

Going forward, Fisher said the dilemma for TSA is how to best work with foreign jurisdictions and come up with screening and other security protocols commensurate with what TSA applies in the U.S. The international air cargo community, said Fisher, is very interested in security without slowing down the progress of air cargo which is a definitive and time-sensitive product.

“We are looking for realistic solutions to make the supply chain secure but do not inhibit flow of commerce,” said Fisher.

The TSA’s directive has the potential to subject U.S.-bound shipments to an elevated screening level, according to Brandon Fried, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Airforwarders Association.

And when TSA first stated its intentions Air Canada temporarily placed an embargo on all its shipments coming into the U.S. from Canada, with reports that other carriers would follow its lead. Fried explained that this occurred due in large part to the “imprecise language and uncertainty” the TSA directive created.

“Something like this can stop commerce, which we do not want and we don’t think TSA does either,” said Fried. “We cannot imagine TSA condoning anything that would stop air freight altogether; that would be the first reaction. And instead of communicating directly to us what the requirement was TSA chose to use the airlines as their communications conduit. So here you have airlines who don’t completely understand the requirement and as a result have varying interpretations in communication it to the forwarders. And ultimately it is the forwarders who have to go and communicate this requirement to the shippers who are giving them the boxes in the first place.”

This type of “stovepiped” communications is creating a strain in the air cargo industry, according to Fried, and is one of the primary previous criticisms of TSA in which communications to forwarders and airlines have been kept separate, with communicating in a limited manner making things unclear and subsequently hard to understand its impact.

TSA officials did not reply to calls from LM at press time.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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