They discovered it on a Friday. While screening cargo on a U.S.-bound freighter departing from Yemen, investigators found a bomb encased in a toner cartridge. Although U.K officials intercepted the device before it could detonate, the would-be act of violence caused a global uproar.
In addition to reinforcing the need for stringent security measures, the October 2010 incident also highlighted the vulnerability of airfreight to a terrorist attack. It’s this latter point that has many aviation insiders advocating the universal implementation of 100-percent cargo screening.
This practice is nothing new for passenger planes in the U.S. Congressionally mandated in the 9/11 Act of 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was ordered to develop a way to screen all cargo carried on passenger aircraft by August 2010.
The industry hit the deadline, and in the year following its inception, the TSA has monitored all freight transported on domestic and international outbound passenger jets originating in the U.S. This has been accomplished through airline screening and the organization’s certified cargo screening program (CCSP).
An integral part of the 9/11 Act, the CCSP seeks to expedite the screening process by allowing entities that have met rigorous standards inspect freight. According to the TSA, only airlines were previously authorized to screen bellyhold cargo.
Now the TSA wants other nations to follow its lead. But will it be able to parlay its success with the CCSP into international law? Will the industry meet the TSA’s proposed December 31 deadline for screening all U.S.-bound cargo? And does the U.S. even have the authority to impose such regulations?
A fixed deadline?
The TSA’s Jim Fotenos wants to set the record straight: Despite industry rumblings, December 31 is a guideline — not a mandate. Fotenos says his organization is also soliciting feedback from key industry personnel about the feasibility of this date. Fortunately, he asserts, the CCSP serves as a prototype for other nations to follow.
What’s more, Fotenos says that all international carriers use the TSA’s screening requirements, except countries that have programs commensurate with the organization’s National Cargo Security Program (NCSP).
“And TSA is working with international partners on their NCSPs to ensure a level of security equivalent to existing U.S. air cargo security standards. [This] will help expedite legitimate commerce and trade throughout the global supply chain by eliminating the need for carriers to adhere to multiple security processes in a given country,” Fotenos says.
Fotenos also points to the numerous security alliances the U.S. has formed, including entering into the Quadrilateral Agreement with Australia, Canada and the European Union, and uniting with 190 other nations to adopt the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Declaration on Aviation Security.
The TSA also issued another directive in March, increasing surveillance on high-risk international cargo. Under the new mandate, freight forwarders and airlines are required to obtain additional information from shippers that lack established relationships with them.
Michael Steen, chairman of The International Air Cargo Association, says these regulations speak volumes about the TSA’s push for tighter security. He also credits the CCSP with reducing bottlenecks in the cargo screening process. “Without [this program], I’m sure we would have experienced significant disruptions in August 2010 when the 100-percent deadline was imposed in the U.S.,” he says.
Steen still sees some room for concern. “As a strong supporter of supply-chain security practices, we’d like to see TSA recognize other countries’ programs or a CCSP-compatible program in place in those countries that lack them,” he says.
Not that all this has been a problem in France, Air France Cargo-KLM Cargo’s Jean-Claude Raynaud asserts. After closely scrutinizing France’s screening methods and technology, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deemed the nation’s security levels on par with TSA requirements.
But Steen questions the exclusivity of this ruling. “It is hard to believe that only one country — France — has NCSP status with only a few others in the pipeline,” he says. “We believe that significant progress can be made if the DHS creates a more efficient organization for the evaluation of foreign country programs into the NCSP.” Because of this, Steen endorses greater investments into the program, which he calls the “key linchpin in achieving 100-percent inbound screening.”
All of this begs the question: Does the U.S. have the authority to impose such regulations? Experts have mixed opinions.
Like Steen, Radiant Global Logistics CEO Bohn Crain praises the strides made by the TSA, but he raises some important points. “The biggest challenge resides with TSA reviewing other countries’ security processes to determine the adequacy of their screening programs,” he maintains.
Crain thinks the TSA lacks jurisdiction to regulate other nations and doesn’t have the means to verify airfreight security abroad. Instead, he believes that the TSA should employ its NCSP strategy to recognize other nations’ safety procedures.
Then there are the financial implications of 100-percent screening. With an onslaught of challenges affecting the global economy, Crain worries that inspecting every piece of cargo — even those goods that would be considered low-risk — will cause delays in shipments. He fears that it might become such an inconvenience that shippers may consider other means of transportation.
“We envision more modes shifting away from air, further hindering the industry during this tough economic time,” Crain projects. “Furthermore, this may have an adverse effect on commerce since no other mode delivers cargo faster over long distances than airfreight.”
Carriers are also feeling the financial strain of increased security. In fact, James LoBello, Lufthansa Cargo’s head of security, Americas, admits that his company’s security costs have
increased tenfold in the decade after 9/11. It’s one of the key reasons why he endorses a risk-based approach to cargo screening.
“Although we understand the position behind the requests for 100-percent screening and believe this will be further adapted in the future, we are certain that through further outreach and discussion the measures could be more refined,” LoBello maintains.
After all, he explains, big initiatives require big investments — and technological and financial resources are limited. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to security, and by implementing security measures under a risk-based philosophy, the most effective balance would be reached,” LoBello explains.
It’s a viewpoint Steen shares. Simply focusing on screening and overlooking intelligence and supply-chain controls isn’t the best way to promote airfreight security, he warns. Instead, Steen encourages government agencies to think comprehensively and view supply chains from a multilayered perspective.
It seems to be an opinion many others echo in their comments about screening. In fact, if there’s a general consensus among aviation experts, it’s the importance of approaching screening from a multilayered prospective.
To the International Air Transport Association Global Head of Cargo Des Vertannes, it’s simply a matter of balancing risk management with physical screening. After all, he points out, “100-percent screening does not mean 100-percent physical screening.”
Working out the kinks
Although Vertannes lauds the work done by the TSA to improve security throughout the supply chain, he sees some potential loopholes. One key issue? Ensuring that the 100-percent screening mandate covers existing, TSA-recognized Known Consignor and Regulated Agent administrations. Making this distinction will expedite the screening process, Vertannes reasons.
Either way, Vertannes believes open dialogue is key when approaching the proposed TSA deadline. What’s more, he says, IATA is in ongoing talks with the ICAO about how to best
address the new standards and eliminate any barriers to compliance. “And it falls in their and the industry’s best interest to ensure that all stakeholders can comply in order to ensure the free flow of global commerce,” Vertannes says.
Steen agrees. To eliminate barriers to the universal adoption of the TSA’s standards, TIACA has stayed in close communication with the U.S. agency, he says. TIACA also received some promising news in April at its Executive Summit and Annual General Meeting in Bangkok: The TSA said it better understood the challenges of meeting a December 31 deadline and was carefully contemplating its next steps.
Although encouraged by this development, Steen hopes the agency truly follows through on it. In addition to extending the deadline, he urges the TSA to devise practical methods for fulfilling the 100-percent screening directive. After all, he explains, doing so will improve the process tremendously.
“And the industry and regulators all share the same goal: enhancing security while minimizing the disruption to vital commercial flows,” he says. “Both sides recognize the importance of working together to achieve this goal.”
Still, Steen’s concerned about the lack of advanced screening technologies. The biggest improvement TIACA anticipates, he says, is equipment geared specifically to the airfreight environment. “It’s frustrating that, a decade after 9/11, we still don’t have approved equipment capable of screening most consolidated shipments,” Steen maintains.
Another issue that is up in the air is whether all cargo transported on freighters will be subject to 100-percent screening. To Radiant Logistics’ Bohn Crain, it’s a no-brainer. He believes the TSA should regulate passenger and cargo planes similarly, as both types of aircraft present security risks to the American people.
Nevertheless, Crain understands the challenges of this task and supports a risk-based, multilayered approach to screening. He also touts the importance of adapting to threats in the supply chain as they arise. “This by no means implies that we wait for threats to evolve, but instead to self-audit and evaluate internally areas that may need to be improved as the risk matrix changes,” he explains.
Vertannes concurs. To him, it’s all about determining which methods work best, and then assessing them regularly. Moreover, he says, “Cargo security has a good track record, but like all areas of transport, its rules and regulations continue to require review and enhancement in order to stay one step ahead of a committed perpetrator.”