Since achieving the goal of 100-percent screening of cargo on passenger flights leaving domestic airports, the U.S. government is aggressively pursuing the same objective for airfreight destined for the U.S. from other countries. The vehicle used to accomplish this task is the National Cargo Security Program, an initiative that places a high priority on achieving harmonization agreements on screening procedures.
Many see NCSP as the path to recognition of foreign screening requirements. So far, the initiative has seen some success, but progress has been slow, with only about four countries agreeing to participate in the initiative; there are currently 20 more agreements in the pipeline. The absence of a screening agreement with the U.S. should not imply that those countries are failing to inspect cargo on U.S.-bound planes. All countries are taking steps to secure departing flights in order to avoid the introduction of explosive devices, but these steps may not be consistent with current U.S. practices.
The Certified Cargo Screening Program continues to be a successful tool in implementing a cohesive set of laws to govern air cargo screening in the U.S. Industry players have been successfully checking cargo away from airports for almost two years without incident. Performing the task at offsite locations known as Certified Cargo Screening Facilities has alleviated congestion while facilitating a much more manageable screening process for all concerned. With significant investment and vigorous TSA oversight, most in the program are glad they participated and continue to reap the payoff in profits and faster processing.
However, there does not exist a U.S. government industry-certified program for trusted supply-chain partners to perform screening before tendering cargo to passenger air carriers on foreign soil. Since 80 percent of freight transported on these flights is tendered by multinational forwarders who are well known to and regulated by the TSA through the CCSP, certifying these trusted companies to screen cargo overseas would be a major step toward achieving the screening goal.
Pre-departure targeting of shippers is now underway through the Air Cargo Advanced Screening program. Shipment data reviewed under ACAS, when combined with participation in trusted entity programs, plays a major role in deploying screening resources toward elevated-risk cargo.
The absence of mutual program recognition within the supply chain, combined with the inability to certify screening practices in other countries, places the screening burden on airlines overseas. This necessitates the need for forwarders to dismantle consolidated pallets and skids at the airport to meet the TSA piece-level screening requirement. This is time-consuming, expensive and, as the result of lessons learned through the CCSP, completely avoidable.
The TSA should establish a voluntary initiative that would enable trusted forwarders and shippers to perform cargo screening upstream in the U.S.-bound international supply chain. The TSA could individually verify and audit foreign sites in much the same way it does with CCSP locations here in the U.S. Furthermore, participation could be leveraged with existing globally recognized trusted-entity programs. In countries without NCSP Recognition, this program would help reduce duplicate documentation, handling and screening to meet equivalent alternative requirements.
The U.S. Department of State currently recognizes more than 190 countries. Since not all countries have flights directly to the U.S., shipments from those not in the CSP may now need to be screened several times before reaching U.S. soil. Such a repetitive screening requirement is both time-consuming and foolhardy. Allowing trustworthy forwarders and shippers vetted by the TSA in these locations would not only accelerate the pace in meeting the mandated objective, but would ensure the U.S. remains a preferred trading partner.
— Brandon Fried is the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association.