White House, DHS take steps to tighten air cargo security

In light of the October attempt by terrorists to send explosives originating from Yemen to the United States on cargo and passenger planes, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday issued a number of steps to augment security and tighten existing measures pertaining to U.S.-bound cargo.

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In light of the October attempt by terrorists to send explosives originating from Yemen to the United States on cargo and passenger planes, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday issued a number of steps to augment security and tighten existing measures pertaining to U.S.-bound cargo.

DHS Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement that DHS has ordered a ground halt on all cargo shipments coming from Yemen.

Napolitano also said that last week the United States Transportation Security Administration has directed air cargo carriers to begin implementing additional precautionary security measures for international flights inbound to the United States, effective this week.

These measures include banning all air cargo from Yemen, as well as Somalia, along with no high-risk cargo to be allowed in passenger aircraft. They also include prohibiting toner and ink cartridges weighing more than 16 ounces on passenger aircraft in both carry-on bags and checked bags on U.S.-bound domestic and international flights. Napolitano said that this ban will also apply to certain inbound international air cargo shipments.

“[A]ll cargo identified as high risk will go through additional and enhanced screening,” said Napolitano. “These measures also impact inbound international mail packages, which must be screened individually and certified to have come from an established postal shipper. The Administration is also working closely with industry and our international partners to expedite the receipt of cargo manifests for international flights to the United States prior to departure in order to identify and screen items based on risk and current intelligence. We are also working with our international and private sector partners on the expansion of layered detections system including technology and other measures.”

While steps are being taken to prevent another situation from occurring, it does not change the fact that when it comes to air cargo security, there are still numerous gaps.

“It would be good to screen all cargo/parcels going onto all cargo aircraft for
explosives to protect those aircraft and crew from potential harm and
anyone on the ground that could potentially be harmed by a plane coming
down), and it would be wise to screen all air cargo/parcels coming into the
USA from a foreign airport,” said Albert Saphir, principal of ABS Consulting in Weston Fla. “I do not believe we need new policies or laws, just common sense and the
will of the U.S. Government and private industry to make it work.”

While enhanced air cargo screening measures will add costs to the system, Saphir said it would be manageable, as evidenced by the U.S. domestic/export screening mandate for cargo going on to passenger aircraft. This was a major component 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 screen 100 percent of cargo transported on passenger aircraft commensurate with the level of security used for unchecked baggage.

This measure, which went live on August 1, 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 (CCSP), 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.

Saphir said that screening for all cargo flights on the U.S. domestic/export freighter side should be fairly easy to implement as long as the suitable screening technology (Explosive Trace Detection) is available.

On the import side, though, he said all that can be done or mandated is for the airlines to screen cargo 100 percent prior to departure. 

“It would be the airlines purchasing and installing the equipment at their foreign stations/U.S. departure points to screen U.S.-bound cargoes,” said Saphir. “Cost increases would be similar again to what we have seen here in the U.S., not a huge issue.  The major difference would be that is will need to be an airline managed process. I simply see no quick method where the CCSP program idea could be copied over to foreign
countries…in other words, like having U.S. TSA managing forwarders and certified shippers in Germany for example.”

Last week, Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey (D) said he plans to introduce legislation requiring 100 percent screening of all cargo on cargo planes. Markey has been active on the air cargo security front over the years and played an integral role in H.R. 1, Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007.


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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