Securing the air logistics chain

posted on 16th September 2020
Securing the air logistics chain

Will Waters talks to Richard Thompson, global director for aviation at security screening specialist Smiths Detection, about the implications of new ICAO air cargo security rules that come into force from June 2021, and other security developments

Under new ICAO air cargo security rules that come into force next year, from June 2021, so-called ‘account consignors’ can no longer be part of a secure air cargo supply chain – not even for cargo transported on all-cargo aircraft – with a shipper instead required to gain approval as a ‘known consignor’ from June 2021 to qualify for screening exemptions on their cargo shipments.

Under the current rules, many countries allow a regulated agent or aircraft operator to themselves designate a customer or consignor as an ‘account consignor’, rather than the consignor being directly approved by the respective government security or an entity authorised to act on its behalf. An account consignor can then, by applying the respective security procedures set by the appropriate authority to allow carriage on all-cargo aircraft,
originate cargo or mail for its own account for carriage on all-cargo aircraft without the need for further screening of individual shipments by the airline or its agents.

A ‘known consignor’, in contrast, must be inspected by the appropriate authority – or an entity authorised to act on its behalf – to confirm that its physical and procedural security standards comply with the national regulatory requirements for the carriage of cargo or mail on any type of aircraft, before it is allowed to originate cargo or mail for its own account.

ICAO believes that the removal of the ‘account consignor’ category will significantly enhance aviation security, although the move is expected to put some strain on the air freight sector during the process. Since not all account consignors will be able or willing to become a government-approved ‘known consignor’, ICAO is anticipating an increase in the demand for physical screening.

Is that broadly also your understanding of the changes from June 2021?
It is indeed our understanding that from June 2021, consignors that are not approved by the respective government security agency, ‘account consignors’, can no longer play a part in the secure supply chain. The impending changes align the security regime of shipments more closely, regardless of whether it is a cargo only or passenger aircraft.

We believe that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has illustrated how the secure supply chain is becoming more complex and is a good example of how the situation could potentially play out over the medium to longterm. Shipments often start their journey on a cargo aircraft, to then be transferred to a passenger aircraft. Enhancing cargo security requirements will contribute to a more seamless flow of shipments and limit the need
for rescreening when cargo is transferred from one flight to another.

Is it your expectation that that the removal of the ‘account consignor’ category will lead to an increase in the demand for physical screening? Have you seen any evidence of this yet – for example, in companies ordering equipment or starting conversations or seeking quotations from your organisation?
As the changes are still some months ahead, we are starting to see an increase in demand and are ready to advise our customers on the best solution for them. We do anticipate the demand to further increase ahead of official implementation and shortly thereafter.

The EU has already anticipated the phasing out of account consignors since 2017. These consignors are encouraged before June 2021 to either become a known consignor or regulated agent. This is leading both to an increase in the number of known consignors – mainly for larger companies, or for the ones producing goods that are very difficult to screen – and in the number of shipments screened.

Are there any particular markets or countries in which you see or anticipate this happening? What kind of companies do you expect or see this interest coming from?
Authorities across Asia-Pacific in particular have been using Account Consignor status regularly, therefore there is a good chance this will lead to an increased demand for physical screening, as the implementation of known consignor regimes is rather complex and burdensome to put in place by authorities.

This change will most certainly impact smaller consignors who do not have the capability to comply with the stricter security requirements of the known consignor status. Smaller companies might not wish to become known consignors due to the added burden it puts on their logistics. Operators will see an increasing screening demand for shipments coming from these companies. For larger companies, or for companies producing goods that are difficult to screen (for instance cars or aircraft engines), it is expected that they will transition to a known consignor status.

These changes will also mostly impact all-cargo carriers’ operations and organisation.

Do you anticipate any disruption in air freight handling as a result of this change, or do you expect companies will take the necessary changes in time? Which countries or authorities (like Hong Kong) have a transition programme to manage the change?
The changes have been announced since 2016, and we have the full confidence that the industry will be ready. As we saw in the EU with known consignors, airports and companies adapted to legislation changes in the past and they will do so in the future. Airports and companies will have flexible and realistic strategies in place to manage potential disruption.

Since 2016, screening capabilities have evolved tremendously with the availability of more performant explosive detection systems deployed for the screening of cargo. These new technologies can now be combined with automated detection of dangerous goods or other items, thanks to the use of deep learning algorithms or other implementations of artificial intelligence (AI). These new capabilities will absolutely support the changes adopted by ICAO to enhance cargo security measures.

Will there be enough screening capacity by June 2021 to handle any increase in demand for physical screening?
Air cargo connectivity and the free flow of goods are obviously essential to trade and economy. This means cargo forwarding is an exceptionally high-pressure and high-speed business.

The industry will be ready. As mentioned, certain parts of the world have already gone through this process and the technical solutions for physical screening are available and well tested and proven. Smiths Detection offers a wide range of screening equipment for the different needs of the industry from screening large palletised goods to fast automated, line-screening.

To what extent are the kind of scanning solutions provided by Smiths Detection and others now able to screen at speed large and complex pieces of cargo, for example full pallets and ULD containers, and even maindeck ULDs?

The reality is that different screening technologies must be deployed depending on the cargo type and threat level. This increases the need for screening systems to be complementary and interoperable in lieu of a single solution. For the fast-moving air cargo sector, there are a variety of regulatory compliant screening technologies and methods available, which will continue to be applicable when new legislation comes in next year.

X-ray is typically the most efficient option for air cargo security screening and there are two technologies which meet the current standards required by major global regulators – CXS (conventional X-ray systems) with manual evaluation by a human operator; and EDS which facilitates even faster turnover in integrated, high throughput environments such as express forwarding.

The CXS range offers a wide choice of scanners specifically designed to screen small, break bulk cargo or large palletised consignments. Many feature dual-view technology which accelerates inspection of tightly packed items by providing both horizontal and vertical views.

CXS scanners for break bulk cargo are available in several different tunnel sizes and can be fully integrated into material handling lines to avoid manual loading and unloading. They are ideal for screening a mix of shapes and sizes as well as designed with a small footprint to take up less valuable floor space. We also offer scanners aimed solely at the inspection of large, consolidated or palletised goods. Our most powerful option, the HI-SCAN 180180- 2is pro is capable of screening LD3 containers and features two 300kV X-ray generators for penetrating 75mm steel, reducing time spent on break down and re-inspection and ensuring a fast and efficient screening process.

The latest technology for screening parcels is in-line, EDS (Explosives Detection Systems) with Computed Tomography (CT), which can be incorporated into advanced, fully automatic material handling lines. This new generation, ECAC EDS Standard 3 and 3.1 approved equipment, offers highly accurate identification of suspicious substances and quick software upgrades to detect the yet unknown threats and contraband of tomorrow. Contents are examined from every angle, generating 3D images with highly accurate data which only require operator analysis when the system flags
up something suspicious. Practically this means that fewer operators can deal with growing volumes.

These high speed, fully automated systems have the potential to reach throughputs of up to 2,500 items per hour, increasing productivity and lowering the screening cost-per-item. The concept of operation may be adapted specifically for air cargo, including, for example, curtain-less radiation shielding which facilitates smooth movement through the scanner for the lightest of packages.

Canine versus technological screening solutions

Advocates of canine screening have argued that technological solutions are unable to match the speed and efficiency of well-trained explosive detection dog (EDD) teams. In your view, what are the pros and cons of the kinds of technology-based screening or scanning solutions provided by Smiths Detection and others versus canine teams – eg in various different air cargo environments and with different kinds of shipments or ULDs?
There are different use cases for each technology, as well as advantages and disadvantages, depending on the customer and specific cargo requirements. The most suitable screening technology depends on the type of goods, the density of materials, complexity and size of the package and the detection requirement for certain dangerous items, such as lithium batteries. When more than one of these factors is in play, a combination of
screening methods is usually required.

Dogs are a more costly proposition over the longer-term given the time associated with training and re-training as new threats develop, a limit on working hours for both the dog and the handler, and the inability to immediately deduce what has been detected. That being said, there are of course advantages using dogs given their comparative size and agility compared to static screening equipment.

Threats are ever-changing, alongside the changing secure supply chain, therefore the advent of AI allows us to adapt and re-adapt our screening technology to consistently enhance our offer. Moreover, screening equipment can screen for a variety of threats at any given time (explosives, dangerous goods, currencies, endangered species), it does not need to be ‘re-trained’ so to speak.

There are operational considerations that inform the choice of screening method, such as throughput and cost-effectiveness.

A single, holistic software solution approach which combines different compliant technologies to provide a complete solution to the customer is the next step. One way of achieving this would be risk-based screening (RBS), which represents an opportunity to adapt the screening method used based on risk. RBS would allow for the creation of a differentiated and bespoke risk score for shipments based on readily available information, so that air cargo operators adopt an enhanced level of screening for packages representing a higher risk. Risk scores would be generated through the shipping manifest, which acts as a unique identifier, and the risk assessment criteria, including the country of origin and destination, routing information, the declaration of contents and source (e.g. approved forwarding companies).

As security threats evolve, packages become more complex and demands on cargo handlers increase, security screening that is effective and adaptable is imperative. With a software-first approach and the adoption of primary and alarm resolution secondary screening methods one can still deploy systems to achieve maximum security levels.