Air cargo: TSA elects not to go forward with December 31 U.S inbound air cargo screening deadline
October 13, 2011 - LM Editorial
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently announced that it no longer plans to proceed with intended plans to accelerate the deadline for screening United States-bound air cargo to December 31, 2011.
Had this deadline, which was proposed in January, come to fruition, it would have been 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.
TSA officials were not available for comment at press time.
The push for an expedited inbound U.S. air cargo screening deadline was spurred to a large degree by an October 2010 attempt by terrorists to send explosives originating from Yemen to the United States on cargo and passenger planes.
The January proposal from the TSA followed 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.
In November 2010 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 (AfA) Executive Director Brandon Fried told LM that his organization is also not in favor of 100 percent screening and added that the TSA’s decision not to push for this expedited deadline is not a surprise. Fried said that his organization has met with TSA for a while on this and other issues and over the last few months it became pretty apparent they were going to miss this deadline. While TSA could not give specifics, Fried noted TSA said that there are 197 countries that are recognized by the US Dept of State and they had only achieved harmonization agreements with less than five of them and they did tell us that they had about 20 countries in the pipeline at various stages coming close to agreement and those 20 represented about 80 percent of the air cargo shipments coming into the U.S.
“It was pretty significant and if you take that number and put it alongside all the nations that are doing something—all are without exception,” said Fried. “But it is what they are doing may not be commensurate with what TSA is doing or visible to TSA; visibility seems to be the biggest issue. They tell us their biggest challenge is that other countries might have pretty sensitive screening and cargo security programs but that they don’t necessarily want to share these policies with TSA for various reasons but TSA did not elaborate on that. But there is a good chance that maybe not everybody agrees with how the U.S. is handling the issue and who is to say that TSA is the only effective one out there?”
Fried added that the AfA has told TSA they need to make this an international solution where everyone agrees on the same platform, whether it requires to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a forum and agree on globally-accepted best practices This way, he said, there are not 197 different screening programs out there. And the long term objective is to have one which all nations agree, which would be much more palatable from an economic standpoint, a commercial perspective and make a lot more sense, explained Fried.
This sentiment was shared by The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA).
TIACA officials said that TSA’s move not to proceed with a December 31 deadline is the right decision.
“We wish to commend TSA on this decision,” said Michael Steen, Chairman of TIACA, in a statement. “We fully recognize its intention to enhance existing air cargo security programs but it is showing the foresight to listen to, and work with, the industry towards this objective. This is the result of TSA requesting comment from the air cargo industry on the feasibility of a December 31st 2011 deadline and its careful consideration of the advice it received.”
Steen added that TIACA expects to engage in further consultation with TSA along with other industry partners to ensure it continues to maintain the highest possible levels of air cargo and aviation security.
In November 2010, 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 proposed:
-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.
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