Ten years later

posted on 6th June 2018

Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, takes a look at aviation security changes since 9/11

As the fires spread in Washington DC and New York City the morning of September 11, 2001, it became apparent that our lives as Americans and as airfreight forwarders would never be the same. Following the attacks on the US, changes to aviation security were both inevitable and necessary. The challenge at the time, as it is today, is how to secure the nation while maintaining the civil liberties and economy that make the nation great.

Each year, the anniversary of 9/11 is a day for both remembrance and mourning. While the tenth anniversary is no exception, it is also an appropriate time for reflection. The anniversary presents an opportunity to reflect on the decade-long effort to close gaps in security. Serious improvements have been made, evident in the historical changes in national security and governance in the days, months and years following the attacks.

When President Bush urged Americans to return to ‘business as usual’ in 2001, very little would remain ‘usual’ for the airlines, airforwarders and those that regularly utilised their services. Gaps in security needed to be addressed, yet devising and implementing solutions was no easy task.

The first set of changes for airforwarders began in 2002 when indirect and direct air carriers began to tender only cargo from ‘Known Shippers’, who have met federal regulations for safety for passenger aircraft. A debate about what else was necessary following Known Shipper began immediately, with legislative discussions on inspection, screening, scanning or whatever verb du jour taking the centre stage.

Then, six years after 9/11, forwarders and carriers faced the largest change to a security programme that any industry may have experienced in American history.  Included in the ‘Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Committee Act of 2007’ (or the 9/11 Act) was a provision to screen 100% of air cargo on passenger flights within three years of passage. That legislation was the first act of the newly Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on the second day of the legislation session.

The provision, both as originally drafted and as finally enacted, dramatically shifted the responsibility of security to the industry. Prior to this screening provision, security had been viewed as a compliance consideration for business. Under this act, however, the industry assumed ownership of cargo security and screening became integrated within the supply chain.

The industry objected to this proposed legislation due to the lack of technology available to handle the vast size and content variations of air cargo in a timely and effective manner. Concerns centered on the flow of commerce, as there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ for air cargo. Screening at a piece-level could jeopardise warranties, and delays in the supply chain could impact expiration dates of perishable food items or time-sensitive pharmaceuticals. We advocated instead for a risk-based, multi-layered approach to security, as it was, and remains, our belief that this type of assessment would be more effective then screening all cargo in the same way.

The bill contained a timeline, which outlined a few separate deadlines for screening cargo on passenger aircraft at a piece-level: 50% of cargo screened by February 2009 and 100% of cargo screened by August 2010. Legislation also included the Certified Cargo Screening Program or CCSP. This is the system that enables the supply chain to be involved with screening and security from the time the box is packed to delivery at its final destination.  The industry endured growing pains as they paid out of pocket to become certified screening facilities in order to secure the flow of cargo.

Despite the industry’s reservations about screening, carriers, forwarders and shippers rose to the challenge and met it with time to spare. The 100% screening of domestic cargo on passenger planes has been in effect since August 2010. In total, three years of incredibly focused, well-planned efforts on the part of the government, airlines, shippers and forwarders resulted in successfully meeting the Congressional mandate deadline.

As the industry was working to achieve this goal, another challenge arose. Congressman Markey shared his view with TSA that they were required to screen not only domestic cargo, but international inbound cargo as well.  TSA rejected this interpretation initially, then ceded the point and agreed to comply. That compliance was anticipated to be a difficult and lengthy process, as agreements with other nations on this type of matter often are. Regardless, a 2013 deadline for international screening was established.

This international discussion changed yet again in 2010, after the attempted attacks from Yemen on the US involved cargo on both passenger and cargo planes. The foiled bomb plot publically exposed another potential route for terrorist activity in the cargo supply chain. Security experts immediately called for additional security, yet this time hesitated on endorsing additional screening requirements. Advanced data sharing and intelligence gathering prevented the attack, and were widely endorsed as a possible solution if enhanced.  With pilot programmes already in place through a collaborative public-private partnership, it seems some of the lessons of 9/11 have been learned – cooperation and common sense approaches to cargo.

Over the past ten years, the industry has stepped up to meet federal mandates, and have even to fund security improvements out of pocket in the midst of slower volumes and an economic recession. While a strong level of security was in place prior to 9/11, standards are constantly improving as the industry explores new technology to address emerging threats.

Forwarders have learned much in the past decade and have used that knowledge to create a stronger, leaner and more secure supply chain. In an ever-changing industry, one thing has remained a constant throughout the years – security is the first priority. As we take time to remember 9/11 this year, it is also important to reflect on the efforts made every day to keep our skies safe.