They call the October 2010 terrorist bomb hidden inside a shipment of printer cartridges air cargo’s “9-11.” That’s because, although the flight from Yemen to the U.S was thwarted, the threat nevertheless shook the air cargo industry around the globe.
“It taught us that 100 percent physical screening of all packages does not equate to 100 percent security,” says Brandon Fried, executive director of The Airforwarders Association in Washington, D.C. “Knowing who is doing the shipping and receiving of the cargo plays a vital role in assessing possible threats as well.”
Not only did the failed plot teach the industry that 100 percent physical screening of all packages does not equate to 100 percent security; it ushered in policy changes and processes that impact air cargo screening worldwide today.
Those include the recent U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mandate that all cargo shipments loaded on passenger aircraft undergo screening for explosives, effective Dec. 3, 2012, and the European Commission’s EC Regulation 859/2011, mandated in September 2011 that requires, for the first time, security controls at source, before the cargo arrives in the EU.
“These harmonized agreements constitute 80 percent of the cargo coming into the United States,” Fried says. “For the remaining portion, TSA now requires airlines to screen the cargo to its standards before boarding the flight at the last point of departure into the United States.”
Such measures require that carriers get on board with more programs. Most air cargo executives welcome the effort. Case in point: Emirates has been in compliance with the TSA security requirements well ahead of the deadline.
“Strict security measures have always been paramount on all of our routes,” says Ram Menen, divisional senior vice president, Cargo, Emirates Air Line. “Although most multi-national freight forwarders tend to have security protocols in place, we require all cargo to be screened before acceptance for carriage.”
Similarly, TSA’s December 2012 regulation had a minimal impact on Korean Air’s operation since Korea’s government already enforced 100 percent X-ray screening for all cargo on passenger planes departing from Korea.
“Airlines are already involved with cargo screening activities at the terminal,” says Dim Dong Hoon, team leader of the Cargo Service Team Korean Air.
Korean Air, however, faces extra costs and decreased efficiencies in terms of operational service from the additional screening activities for transit cargo going to U.S. “Re-screening transit cargo makes ground handling activities take longer, which makes prompt flight connections difficult,” Hoon says.
A number of U.S. carriers worked closely with TSA for several years to put measures in place prior to the December 2012 deadline so as not to impede the movement of goods through the supply chain.
“This helped because we already had processes in place that we were able to build on to have 100 percent screening prior to the deadline,” says Derek Duiser, manager Cargo Security, Delta Air Lines.
While there are concerns that not all of the requirements and systems worldwide are aligned with international standards, governments worldwide are warming up to harmonized and aligned security measures.
In February 2011, for example, the TSA recognized the French National Cargo Security Program, then later programs in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Effective June 1, 2011, the US and Canadian governments eliminated the double screening of cargo on passenger aircraft traveling between the U.S. and Canada. On June 1, 2012 a declaration was signed between the TSA and the EC for an air cargo security partnership with the EU and Switzerland.
Robbie Anderson, president United Cargo, points out that a significant amount of the cargo carried by United is impacted by National Cargo Security Program agreements
“This allows us to follow one security program and screening protocol, and in some cases moves the screening to an earlier point in the secure supply chain – which lessens the tendency for `choke points’ to form at airport points of tender,” he says.
Differences exist, however, between the various programs, especially since air cargo screening can use a variety of sources to evaluate risk, such as intelligence and documentation, as well as physical screening.
“These differences can make it difficult to develop standardized processes in some situations, and can make policy/procedure manuals lengthy,” Duiser says.
As a result, Delta has invested much time making sure that its teams around the globe have clearly defined and well-documented procedures, and that the carrier has processes in place to monitor and ensure compliance. In addition, Delta’s SkyTeam Cargo alliance affords the carrier the opportunity to establish consistent processes and adopt best practices.
“One of SkyTeam Cargo’s key initiatives is a ‘one roof concept,’ where we share common facilities,” Duiser explains. “Wherever SkyTeam carriers are co-located it enables us to cooperate on screening and security measures.”
While there may be procedural differences, particularly at point-of-origin, many in the industry contend that by mutually recognizing the programs, a host of complications have been removed such as having to re-do security measures at transfer or perform two different security processes at origin to meet the requirements of the regulatory authority at each end of the flight.
In fact, some executives, such as United Cargo’s Anderson, see the data-driven process to evaluate risk levels as an additional layer of security that complements, but does not replace physical screening.
“More governments around the world are now sharing their shipper-related data, and their security protocols are becoming more harmonious,” he says. “This has the dual benefit of enhancing security while allowing air cargo to more effectively contribute to the world’s economic growth.”
Particularly noteworthy is the February 2012 rule-based security measure implemented by the EU that regards inbound flights that addresses similar concerns as the U.S. rules for inbound cargo originating from countries without a recognized program.
“In essence, the rule states that each carrier serving EU must be Air Cargo Carrier Third-Country (ACC3) approved by one of the EU national civil aviation bodies upon presentation of its cargo security program in place at every third country departure airport,” explained Jean-Luc Servant, head of regulatory and industry affairs, AirFrance Cargo.
On top of that, as of July 2014, each carrier must have its cargo security program inspected and approved by independent validators at every third country departure airport, except for those countries listed on the EU green list. “Additionally, cargo originating from countries listed on the EU red list must receive dual screening using two different means of inspection,” Servant says.
ACAS Program and Initiatives
Of particular concern among air cargo executives and forwarders, is the lack of progress in certifying foreign country air cargo security programs. Even now, not all requirements and systems worldwide are aligned with international standards. Some countries in Asia are particularly lagging, although the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is moving to advance initiatives.
Consequently, organizations throughout the air cargo industry are calling for broad participation in the Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS), an ongoing pilot program underway in the United States that is intended to further harmonize and align security requirements to protect the industry’s critical objectives: speed and customer responsiveness.
“There are a number of present and future benefits to the ACAS program,” United Cargo’s Anderson says. “It uses existing data to provide an additional layer of security to effectively target higher-risk shipments. And we benefit from processes that lead to safer skies. This targeting has the added advantage of occurring at an earlier stage of the supply chain.”
Delta’s Duiser adds that risk-based screening is the direction in which the industry needs to go.
“Treating all shipments the same from a screening standpoint is not an effective or efficient use of resources,” he says.
But challenges exist due to complexities within the air cargo industry and supply chains. An example is getting data early enough in the process to give time to react before individual shipments are consolidated or built up for carriage.
“Data fields, formats and codes also must be standardized in accordance with IATA and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) practices,” says AF Cargo’s Servant.
Hub-based carriers, such as AF-KL, are particularly anxious to see future ACAS reporting processes harmonized internationally with identical standards ideally driven by the World Customs Organization (WCO).
“This is the case, in particular, for all connecting shipments involving two reporting channels simultaneously,” Servant says.
An example would be a shipment from Asia to JFK via CDG that requires previous ‘clearance’ by respective U.S. and France customs before it may depart from Asia.
“The ACAS process is applicable to all inbound shipments, regardless of the origin station or country,” he adds.
Korean Air’s Hoon expects that from ACAS, airlines will able to obtain security status of the shipment in advance from registration stage and also prevent shipment from showing up late.
“Also, we expect the responsibility of cargo security to be partially dispersed from airlines to shipper and forwarding companies as well,” Hoon says. “Forwarders will be affected by the fact that they will have to transmit data of the shipment earlier than usual and airlines will have to bear the space loss that might occur if the cargo is prohibited to be transported to the United States.”
While a handful of larger forwarders are participating in the volunteer pilot, those within the Airforwarders Association remain concerned that more small to medium-sized forwarders are not voluntarily submitting shipment data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency during the testing phase.
“Those forwarders who remain unaware of the program or its requirements may encounter delays on shipments coming into the U.S. after ACAS leaves its pilot phase and becomes a requirement,” Fried says.
Despite the challenges, the industry is positive about ACAS.
“The good thing about ACAS is that the authorities are able to receive the entire shipment details from consignee to the commodity level,” Menen says.
Anderson regards ACAS as a perfect example of one of the most positive and encouraging recent trends – industry stakeholders and government representatives collaborating to develop mutually beneficial solutions.
“This spirit of cooperation bodes well for future security rulemaking,” he says. “Several other nations are exploring similar data-driven programs, and ACAS has the potential to serve as the standard for the rest of the world.”