By June 30, 2021, the ICAO requires all Member States ensure that 100% of international air cargo transported on commercial aircraft is either (1) screened to a level intended to identify and/or detect the presence of concealed explosive devices or (2) under appropriate security controls throughout the cargo supply chain to prevent the introduction of concealed explosive devices.
There are two paths to U.S. compliance with this mandate; screen 100% of cargo before it is loaded onto a commercial aircraft, or establish a TSA-regulated program or framework that screens cargo and/or applies security controls throughout the supply chain.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working with the air cargo industry to determine the best and safest way to implement these security standards. In April 2020, the TSA published a Request for Information (RFI) inviting all-cargo operators and stakeholders to submit comments and participate in a (virtual) meeting. The purpose is to explore less costly alternatives for compliance with the mandate and “… reduce the burden on U.S. and foreign all-cargo aircraft operators”, because “… a 100 percent screening requirement will increase the cost of transporting air cargo.”
The end game is only weeks away, and the solutions across the globe are literally all over the map. The little island of Hong Kong has created an approach, UFreight, which appears to solve the problem via a one stop screening before entering the airport and the United States via the TSA is now working on what they call a “TSA-regulated program or framework”.
The EU is the usual mixed bag of preparedness not only by country, but by airport. Most are looking at capturing and certifying cargo before it reaches the airport. On the surface, this appears to be the most efficient way to guarantee safety as well as keep costs under control.
Potential Solutions Evaluated for the Screening Process
Leading up to the due date, there has been several suggestions made about how the U.S. can use current technology in place that covers this requirement for cargo carried on passenger aircraft. The CCSP (Certified Cargo Screening Program) process has been touted as a potential solution to pre-screening by Ian Putzger, America’s correspondent for Loadstar is his January 15th article. 1
Putzger went on to say in a quite blunt terms what he thought was the best course of action; “There is also widespread bemusement why the TSA is bent on developing a program described as “resource consuming, with probably not much benefit to most participants”, rather than simply expand the Certified Cargo Screening Program, which was established in the run-up to the mandate to screen all belly cargo.
In a similar coverage of this topic in an article in Air Cargo News January 2020 issue, Brandon Fried, Executive Director of the Airforwarders Association also recommended the use of CSSP as a starting point for a more tailored solution since it is essentially doing the same thing for cargo borne on a passenger flight as cargo loaded on a freight only flight.
However, it appears that these solutions have been nixed by the TSA while they now work on what they call a TSA-regulated program or framework. This framework will in certainty not be ready by the June 30th due date.
Solving the Screening Deadline Obstacles Before Activating a Permanent Solution
Between the June 30th deadline and the readiness of the pre-screening framework software and processes, the shippers/forwarders will have to use currently available technology plus the ever-reliable canine teams who have been life savers during this period of intense security measures.
In a conversation Metropolitan Airport News, Brandon Fried commented about what June 30th may look like in the wake of our “partial readiness” and Fried stated that; “If there are any screening problems at the airport, the shippers/forwarders and the TSA will jointly work on it and find solutions to avoid holding up cargo flights.” He added; “Canines are an important element in solving problems, and they will be key in closing screening gaps; but the number needed to close these gaps are not easy to come by. There is not an infinite number of trainable dogs available.” 3
To appreciate the scope of the problem, let’s take an overview look at the cargo process at our airports; you will see cargo trucked in with accompanying freight documents prepared by the forwarders along with the cargo shipping processes, stored temporarily in warehouses or in facilities next to ramps, and/or handed over to cargo handler workers for a ground service firm. From the warehouse/temporary storage facility, the cargo is screened by the TSA before being trucked over to the aircraft and loaded. While the number of hands touching this shipment makes the transit to the aircraft complex, there is no getting around the fact that there are a diversity of skills and checks that need to be done by professionals. There is no such thing as a shortcut for safety and security.
Fried also went on to inform us that; “The TSA is committed to the June 30th date and that there will be no delay in the implementation of the 100% screening under any circumstances.”
The Exceptions Sometimes Define the Rule
There are a number of reasons why relying completely on last-minute cargo screening at the airport is not the answer. They include:
- Cargo arriving at the airport is often already palletized. This can make it impossible to screen completely without breaking up the pallet.
- Some cargo is too large for the x-ray screening systems most common at airports.
- Some cargo requires specific methods and/or multiple screening methods that may not be available at the airport.
- The time factors. There is only a brief window of time when loading aircraft for departure and often too much cargo to screen efficiently.
The key as always is working together through transition to refinement
Brandon Fried said: “The Airforwarders Association believes that the TSA and air cargo stakeholders share a common goal: the safety and security of our aviation industry and those we serve.”
Atlas Air, the all-cargo airline It argued that for all-cargo air carriers, the costs of implementing a 100% screening regime would be substantial and the use of screening machines and third-party canines would need to be expanded significantly. We certainly cannot ignore those facts.
However, as with any effort this big and all encompassing, there will be kinks to work out, problems to solve manually and even the rare event of shipments falling between the cracks. But we have to start somewhere, and waiting for something to be perfect is never the right approach. Or as Seneca tells us; “Destitutus ventis, remos adhibe” If the sails fail, use the oars.