The Congressional mandate for 100-percent screening of air cargo created a good deal of uncertainty for both those in and outside the airfreight industry.
Upon enactment of the Implementing the 9/11 Recommendations Act (2007), many wondered how airlines, forwarders and shippers were going to meet the goal of screening each piece of cargo before loading them onto passenger planes departing from U.S. airports.
Due to industry’s dependence on air cargo to support its businesses, the economy and our lives, failure to achieve this goal was not an option.
With the new challenge of meeting this mandate at hand, industry stakeholders congregated at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), where the late air cargo manager Ed Kelly announced an idea to accomplish the challenge. Industry players were originally opposed to considering ideas from this new agency; most TSA passenger-screening strategies had resulted in long lines and delays. The group listened, but only to have cargo avoiding the same fate as passenger screening.
Kelly had spent a fair amount of time in the United Kingdom and had learned about the British system of incorporating supply-chain participants in the cargo screening process. After a few tweaks, plus much discussion with concerned lawmakers, the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP) was born.
Initially, CCSP was faced with several unanswered questions. How could the supply chain be trusted to screen? How could shipments screened away from airports arrive with an intact chain of custody? Did the TSA have the resources to enroll, validate and audit program participants?
Another pressing question was how to afford joining the program. Forwarders had to purchase expensive technology to perform screening, and Congress hadn’t appropriated money in the budget for this purpose. As with so many mandates from Washington, unfortunately, industry members were asked to implement a law on their own dime.
Congress allowed three years after enactment of the 9/11 act to phase in the requirement. The deadline was met in August 2010; throughout the first year, screening has been relatively transparent.
While many of the early concerns have been resolved, the industry faces some new challenges. There is still no certified technology to screen pallets containing different commodities. The TSA needs to continue its quest to certify this needed equipment, as screeners must now screen each pallet at a piece level.
While shippers in the program now outnumber forwarders, the forwarding community tenders most of the cargo volume, as customers have left the task and responsibility to their freight company. Since businesses want to avoid increased government regulation and oversight, Kelly’s initial projection of thousands of shipper enrollees has yet to materialize.
The 9/11 Act covers shipments flying to the United States, but the legislation does not specifically address cargo planes. While this was a concern, industry insiders and policymakers also worried that screening all freight on cargo plans would be impossible without bringing the global economy to a halt. The challenge for 2011 and beyond is how to best mine data submitted in advance of departure to detect dangerous anomalies.
Critics say that submitting shipment data before departure is better than checking every piece of freight. This may be costly; if forced to submit the information too early, operators will lose time to collect shipments. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is currently conducting advanced manifest submission pilot programs, working with industry officials to determine a workable solution.
Terrorism is not just one country’s problem. Despite recent calls by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to revisit the logic behind 100-percent maritime screening, air cargo screening seems permanent due to its high profile. Kelly’s vision of a supply-chain solution to screening passenger cargo in the U.S. may have had its initial and ongoing challenges, but those in the CCSP have managed to derive cost-saving efficiencies to accelerate their return on investment.
As we enter its second year, we must realize that success lies not only in the belief of a risk-based, multilayered approach, but the realization that when working together, protecting aviation begins far from the airport.