Air cargo security has come a long way since 9/11, but airports, airlines and their customers still crave clarity and consistency internationally, Martin Roebuck discovers
Countries that are adopting IATA’s Secure Freight initiative, or have otherwise quietly strengthened their air cargo security procedures, may feel that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the United States rather dominates the headlines with its highly public pronouncements and demands for process change from carriers and freight forwarders.
Whether other regimes prefer to stay in the background or not, it is perhaps inevitable that the US, which remains the largest single air freight market in terms of import, export and domestic volumes, is driving the security agenda. Ten years on from 9/11, the country is still coming to terms with terrorist threats on its home turf. If its lawmakers needed any encouragement in their belief that the supply chain remains a potential point of weakness, then the toner cartridge plot of October 2010, albeit involving freighter aircraft, was vindication.
Ironically, the legislation passed by US Congress in 2007 (the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, or 9/11 Act) requiring carriers to screen or physically inspect cargo loaded in the bellies of passenger aircraft, set no date for screening freighter shipments.
Shipments on US domestic and outbound international passenger flights have been subject to 100% screening since August 2010. TSA originally announced an extension of this to inbound passenger flights with effect from December 31 this year, but expressions of concern from the air freight community have forced a rethink.
Jim Fotenos, from TSA’s office of strategic communications and public affairs, says: “We asked the industry for feedback. TSA is carefully reviewing and considering comments from the industry before determining when the 100% mark will be required.”
The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) welcomes this more consultative approach. Chairman Michael Steen says: “There have been times when TSA has surprised or confused industry with some of its actions, and where it’s been difficult to get clarifications.
“TSA officials have publicly acknowledged the complexity and difficulty of meeting the proposed December 31 deadline – which means they did a commendable job of listening to industry on this issue. We’re glad TSA seems willing to adjust its timelines to better reflect the operating realities of the air cargo supply chain.”
Many observers have pointed out that intelligence tip-offs have foiled more attempted attacks on aircraft – including the rogue toner cartridge shipments from Yemen – than screening has. TSA has acknowledged that it is “reorienting air cargo procedures away from a one-size-fits-all approach in favour of risk-based screening”, and is currently trialling voluntary Air Cargo Advance Screening in collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The pilot scheme aims to identify potentially high-risk shipments for more intensive inspection. The initial pilot involves express carriers, but will expand to include passenger carriers, freighter operators and, eventually, forwarders.
The 9/11 Act requires cargo to be screened at piece level, though not necessarily at the airport. Under the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), TSA-approved shippers and forwarders can pre-screen cargo before it is consolidated and tendered to the airline.
TSA has so far certified around 1,250 screening facilities. “Initially, we expected that number to be greater; however, many shippers elected to allow freight forwarders to conduct the screening,” Fotenos says. With 56% of bellyhold cargo now CCSP-screened before arrival at the airport, however, he claims the programme is “meeting overall expectations”.
He accepts that airports not only face space issues, but lack screening capability. TSA has approved certain equipment that can screen multiple pieces on large skids under strictly controlled conditions, but the industry must wait longer for technology that can screen multiple shipments in large containers or ULDs (see panel).
Bilateral agreements signed between the US and Canada, the EU, and Australia have the goal of ensuring equivalent levels of air cargo security, and mutual recognition. Fotenos will not disclose whose national cargo security programmes are now recognised by the US, but points out that the TSA is working with a number of countries on their NCSPs.
The status of transit cargo is raising concern. Christopher Bidwell, VP for security and facilitation at Airports Council International (ACI) in North America, says that provided carriers work in accordance with TSA standards when screening shipments at the point of origin, this material should not have to be re-screened if it is transshipping over Europe to the US.
Fotenos says: “The screening requirements for international inbound cargo apply to the last point of departure, regardless of country of origin.”
Harald Zieliniski, head of security at Lufthansa Cargo, remains unclear on the detail. “We have a new warehouse coming on stream at Frankfurt in 2017 that will cost hundreds of millions of euros. We want to start building in two years, but what should be the specification?” he asks.
If a shipment comes in from a third country on a Lufthansa flight, it will already have been inspected at piece level, Zielinski says. He trusts these pallets will not have to be broken down and re-screened, but is unsure of the rules if this material is consolidated with cargo that arrived by other routes. “How do I bring that unsecured cargo into a secure facility for screening? Am I allowed to touch it? If I open the rear door, the facility is declared unsafe.”
TIACA says global operators “want and need harmonised security standards” and would like to see more resources devoted to this. “There are some officials who simply don’t believe that a truly risk-based, multi-layered approach is sufficient. Instead, they want 100%, fail-safe security measures at every layer. The problem is that, in the real world, there simply is no way to design or guarantee a fail-safe system,” Steen says.
TSA must prioritise development, testing and approval of new screening technologies for consolidated cargo, Steen argues, but he doesn’t see why the industry should have to pay.
“We’d like to see government pick up some portion of the bill, whether through credits or some other mechanism,” he says. “The air cargo sector, whose margins are razor thin, has borne a disproportionate burden in paying for the last decade’s worth of security initiatives.”
IATA is participating in the CBP/TSA advance-screening pilot and has also convened a Cargo Security Task Force, including members from UPS, Emirates and Lufthansa Cargo, which aims to ensure that security regulators take into account the experiences of, and constraints on, the airline industry.
The group is discussing revisions to cargo security legislation with the European Commission, and is also working to ensure that countries recognise one another’s security regimes. It has reviewed ICAO Annex 17 and provided feedback to ICAO that it hopes will help member states to implement standard rules.
The US must recognise that regulated-agent and other programmes equivalent to CCSP already exist elsewhere in the world, Lufthansa Cargo says. “Although we are making minor progress between certain nations, we are still far from acceptable solutions,” says Zielinski.
Forwarder Ceva Logistics operates under TSA certification in the US, both as an “indirect air carrier” and as a participant in CCSP.
“We were one of the first forwarders to engage with CBP in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and have been C-TPAT approved since May 2003. Unfortunately, the C-TPAT requirements do not have any real correlation with TSA’s CCSP requirements,” says Ted Henderson, senior VP of global trade services at Ceva.
“If you consider the narrow focus of CCSP versus the broad sweep of C-TPAT, I’m not sure it is really possible to create a good linkage between the two. So, when it came time to be accredited under CCSP, we basically started from the begin
Ceva currently screens at six primary US gateways and has also set up screening operations to support specific customer needs at three additional stations. Both dual-view X-ray and explosive trace detection technology are used and the investment has run to several million dollars, Henderson says. “Shippers have not generally embraced CCSP and the screening responsibilities fall to us or our carrier partners.”
A pilot project at an EU gateway will build on Ceva’s US screening experience to prepare the company for securing the inbound supply chain under TSA’s new protocols. Its aim is “to guide the programme in a business-practical manner while meeting the ultimate security objectives”, Henderson says. “We have had to make a number of changes in our internal processes in order to appropriately tender freight to our carrier partners. The leap to the new requirements is significant for forwarders who have global operations.”
Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status will count for little, he fears. “The fact that we are approved under AEO in multiple European countries or Singapore’s STA programme doesn’t get to the heart of the matter – the actual screening requirement,” Henderson says.
“The impact of mandatory 100% physical screening at piece level for all air cargo destined for the US will be staggering. Consider the equipment investment for carriers, ground agents and forwarders in order to effectively screen at every originating airport. Then think about the necessary changes in air cargo facilities – the additional space necessary to accommodate the equipment, the new workflows and processes with additional personnel requirements, the physical reporting that would need to be instituted. Add in a multitude of intangibles, such as earlier cut-off times and internal auditing, and realistically, I don’t think that anyone can fully capture the true cost at this point.”
He hopes that, depending on how the CBP/TSA pilot on electronic filing of advance shipment data plays out as part of a multi-tier security strategy, Ceva may ultimately see some reduction in the administrative burden. But costs are sure to increase in the short term.
While this tie-up between the US’s CBP and TSA is a step forward, Henderson believes the authorities in the US, Europe and elsewhere are not moving fast enough to harmonise their approach to security.
“It would be hugely beneficial to the air cargo industry if this could get sorted. It’s not that no-one is devoting time and effort to this, but it is a major undertaking for governments to get agreement on specific protocols in such a sensitive area.”