100 percent air cargo screening off to smooth start so far

On August 1, a law mandating 100 percent screening of cargo transported on passenger aircraft took effect. While the mandate has not been in effect for that long, the early returns indicate things are off to a solid start, according to industry stakeholders.

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On August 1, a law mandating 100 percent screening of cargo transported on passenger aircraft took effect. While the mandate has not been in effect for that long, the early returns indicate things are off to a solid start, according to industry stakeholders.

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.

Before the August 1 deadline kicked in, TSA said more than 900 shippers, freight forwarders, and independent cargo screening facilities became CCSP-certified

On August 2, TSA announced the airline industry met a key requirement of the 9/11 Act by screening 100 percent of air cargo on domestic aircraft and is continuing to utilize a multi-layered approach to air cargo security, including procedures for known and established shippers to ship cargo on domestic passenger aircraft, deploying explosive detection canine teams, and conducting covert tests and no-notice inspections of cargo operations.

“The early returns are that so far it has been relatively transparent and not a significant event,” said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Airforwarders Association (AfA). “We have really not seen any of the dire hardships that initially in 2007 we thought we would encounter when the legislation was passed.”

While things are smooth so far, Fried did point out that August is typically a slow month for the air cargo industry, and he added things are likely to become more hectic in September as shippers gear up for the traditional Holiday Season, which could increase the potential for backlog. 

Fried said that while freight forwarders were slow to initially respond to CCSP, they eventually got on board to devise strategies to deal with their screening responsibilities, which led to an upsurge in CCSP validations and registrations.

“It took us a while to get there, and it is an unfunded mandate so we are spending our own money to get in the game,” said Fried. “That is ultimately going to impact consumers and shippers as airlines and freight forwarders are going to have to find ways to recoup those investments. But I think shippers and consumers can be thankful that Congress allowed for a free market solution to the screening issue and let CCSP to exist and that makes the market fluid and dynamic.”

Fried pegged the financial commitment for technology-based screening equipment to be between $30,000-$500,000 depending on the type of technology needed for a particular situation. And while physical cargo inspection may be a good way to initially get into CCSP, Fried said it is likely not sustainable, because once volumes pick up, opening up every piece of cargo can create various issues and customer dissatisfaction and will lead to more forwarders needing to make the investment into technology. The most common technology used for air cargo screening is explosive trace detection along with x-rays and explosive residue detection.

With the 100 percent cargo screening rule required for cargo flying on passenger airlines, there are some freight forwarders who may elect to not even bothering and, instead, move air freight on cargo-only airlines, said Albert Saphir, principal of ABS Consulting in Weston, Fla.

“Some forwarders won’t put anything on passenger aircraft, because in the lanes passenger airlines promote their business or services, 90 percent of those lanes are served by cargo-only carriers,” explained Saphir. “And some forwarders don’t want to have to worry about 100 percent scanning and if they have a shipment that needs to go a passenger-only aircraft destination, they may give it to a friendly competitor if they are not active in that particular lane.”

A freight forwarder told LM that since the law went into effect, there has not been any evidence of interruptions or delays due to 100 percent screening, but, as the AfA’s Fried said, a lot of it has to do with seasonality, which will likely change in the coming weeks.

“That is the luck of timing with this law,” said Richard Fisher, president of Boston-based Falcon Global Edge. “The August 1 deadline carriers, forwarders, and screeners time to work out the kinks. We have not seen major delays and have been able to work out screening arrangements at the hubs where we generate most of our shipments.”

Getting all the moving parts in the cargo screening process to work together could be viewed as the biggest “kink,” said Fisher. An example of this could be truckers bringing freight to a CCSP facility and what the facility does after freight is screened to bring it to the airport.

“There were many carriers where a trucker would pick up a shipment and take it to the carrier, and now the trucker is taking the shipment to the screening facility, which is heading up the second leg through an authorized trucker to take that shipment to the airport once it is screened,” he said. “So now you have two legs on the stool where before there was only one before. The logistics of that is working out. Carriers that are screening at 100 percent now are working out their receiving hours as to when they are and are not screening. It is just a matter of working through communications issues like those.”

By the time mid-September rolls around, that will serve as the real test for cargo screening, said Fisher, which is typically the busiest time of the year for air cargo shippers.

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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