TSA looks to bump up air cargo screening deadline

In light of attempts last October by terrorists to send explosives originating from Yemen to the United States on cargo and passenger planes, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said late last month it is looking to accelerate the deadline for screening United States-bound air cargo to December 31, 2011.

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In light of attempts last October by terrorists to send explosives originating from Yemen to the United States on cargo and passenger planes, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said late last month it is looking to accelerate the deadline for screening United States-bound air cargo to December 31, 2011.

This 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.

“Recent global events have proven that there is a compelling need to attain the 100% goal sooner than originally suggested,” said TSA officials.

This update in the screening deadline follows a law mandating 100 percent screening of cargo transported on passenger aircraft, which took effect last August.

The law was part of H.R. 1, Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, which required the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a system to enable to airline industry to establish a system to screen 100 percent of cargo transported on passenger aircraft commensurate with the level of security used for checked baggage.

This requires all air cargo to be screened at the piece level prior to transport on a passenger aircraft for flights originating in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration. Included in this endeavor is TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Program, which enables Indirect Air Carriers (IAC’s), shippers, and Independent Cargo Screening Facilities (ICSF’s) to screen cargo for flights originating in the U.S. According to TSA, most shippers involved in CCSP have readily incorporated physical search into their packing/shipping operation at minimal cost without needing to invest in screening equipment.

TSA officials said from the time of the recent announcement air carriers will have 30-45 days to comment on the new 100% screening requirement, and TSA will review and evaluate the industry comments prior to finalizing and making the requirement effective.
They added that they recommend shippers communicate with their supply chain partners as soon as possible to understand the potential impact that 100 percent screening of inbound air cargo may have on their supply chain.

In November, Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey (D) introduced legislation requiring 100 percent screening of all cargo on cargo planes.

In his bill, entitled “the Air Cargo Security Act,” Markey proposes:
-developing a system to screen 100 percent of cargo transported on all-cargo aircraft within three years, with half of the cargo screened within 18 months;
-establishing a system for the regular inspection of shipping facilities for shipments of air cargo transported on all-cargo planes for purposes of ensuring that appropriate security controls, systems, and protocols are well-observed; and
-entering into agreements with government authorities of foreign countries to ensure that inspections are conducted on a regular basis at shipping facilities for cargo transported in air transportation to the United States.

In November Bloomberg report Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the screening mandate “is an easy thing to say, but it’s probably not the best way to go. Cargo is infinitely more complicated and comes in infinitely more shapes and sizes than passengers.” What’s more, she added that a law akin to H.R.1, which requires cargo screening on passenger flights, would “require some hundreds of treaties to be negotiated so that foreign governments would allow the screening.”

Washington, D.C-based Airfowarders Association Executive Director Brandon Fried was on the same page as Napolitano in a recent interview with LM.

“We are not in favor of 100 percent screening; we believe in more of a supply chain approach to perform screening like CCSP,” said Fried. “More needs to be done to secure cargo on all-cargo aircraft. While screening plays a role, it is not the solution we are looking for to be 100 percent secure. We have to use a very empathically risk-based approach, a multilayered risk-based approach that incorporates lots of different ways to screen cargo and is based on targeted, risk-based assessment. Different methods are needed like explosive trace detection, x-rays, and canine detection.”

Fried added that screening a cargo is much different than screening bags on an airplane. The main reason, he said, is that passenger cargo goes through the same type of screening device. But on the cargo side, he said that TSA has neither vetted nor certified a piece of technology that can screen a pallet that contains multiple commodities, which is H.R. 1 requires screening on a piece level.

Another challenge for TSA cited by Fried is that other nations are not providing TSA with the visibility for their screening protocols, which prevents TSA from knowing if other nations’ screening protocols are commensurate with TSA’s own standards.

“This is a big issue and needs to be elevated beyond the level of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Fried. “We would like to see other agencies like the Department of State and Department of Commerce involved, too, and have Secretary of State Clinton go to her counterparts in other countries to make sure TSA gets the visibility it needs.”

For more articles on air cargo security, please click here.


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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