A Behind-the-Screens Look at Air Cargo

Q: I am an air consolidator and arrange to ship cargo to domestic and international destinations. I understand that the Transportation Security Administration is developing a system to subject 100 percent of domestic and international cargo to security screening. Are you familiar with this initiative, and how will it affect my operations?

A: Last year, Congress enacted “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.” This act requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to implement a system for physically screening 100 percent of cargo transported on passenger aircraft by August 2010.

Under its phasing-in provision, the system must be screening 50 percent of cargo by February 2009.

Approximately 12 million pounds of cargo are transported each day on passenger aircraft in the United States, reports the TSA, which acknowledges that complying with this mandate could prove burdensome to air carriers and operators like you who ship goods through the nation’s airports.

Because carriers have to screen all cargo at the airport’s premises, delays, congestion, and backlogs can result. That’s why the TSA is developing the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP) to meet the act’s requirements.

This program relies on the cooperation of the air cargo industry’s many stakeholders to ensure that screening is conducted in the early stages of the supply chain.

The program envisions designating Certified Cargo Screening Facilities to inspect cargo before it is loaded onto an aircraft. These facilities would be operated voluntarily by air carriers, manufacturers, shippers, indirect air carriers, and air cargo handling agents who meet the TSA’s established security requirements and who agree to be subject to periodic TSA inspections.

The facilities would screen cargo using TSA-approved methods and implement the chain of custody measures necessary to ensure the cargo’s security before it is tendered for transport.

Making Progress

In a recent congressional hearing, the TSA reported that it had made significant progress with the CCSP, which has received support from the air cargo industry. To remain competitive, many operators are looking to participate in the program.

But implementation expenses may prove challenging to some; the new technology required under the program costs between $150,000 and $500,000 per facility.

The TSA is also considering alternative business models for independent facilities that could receive break-bulk cargo, provide screening services to customers, then assemble the goods into pallets for delivery to the air carrier.

For the foreseeable future, the CCSP will be confined to shipments originating in the United States because inspecting cargo in foreign countries creates its own challenges.

Foreign governments maintain their own security systems, which often differ from TSA standards, and they do not allow carriers access to cargo that their own personnel have already screened and secured. The TSA has begun working with a number of governments to adopt uniform measures for screening cargo destined for the United States.

There is little doubt that if you intend to ship your cargo on a passenger aircraft, it will be subject to security screening as early as the beginning of next year.

In fact, your goods may already be subject to screening if you ship from airports that have implemented the CCSP program.

In light of these new security measures, it’s wise to determine whether to seek authority to operate your own cargo screening facility or use the services of your air carrier or another certified facility to conduct these inspections.

Have a liability question or concern? I will try to help. Please send your questions to me via e-mail at [email protected].

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