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Cargo Security - Pass the Parcel

A multi-layered approach involving the entire supply chain promises to bring greater security to air freight

The thwarted Yemen printer cartridge bomb plot in October 2010 has been described as air freight’s 9.11. The event completely changed the way regulators view cargo security. Industry needs to respond to this new outlook to ensure cargo processes remain relevant to the modern market.

The most obvious move by the regulators is the shift toward 100% cargo screening for passenger aircraft in the United States and Europe. The calls for total screening for bellyhold shipments is understandable but waiting until shipments arrive at the airport for screening to take place brings enormous challenges to the air freight industry. The focus should rather be on ensuring screening and security controls all along the supply chain, as this has been developed at International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) level and in Europe.

To begin with, screening doesn’t just mean scanning by a machine. It can involve manual searches, sniffer dogs, and a hundred and one other country-specific requirements. The technology to screen unit load devices (ULDs) effectively isn’t yet ready so shipments get broken down to individual packages and then have to be reconsolidated, adding time and cost to a sector that is founded on delivery speed.
It’s also a logistical nightmare because airports can run out of cargo space pretty quickly. Airports worldwide could face gridlock as facilities struggle to move shipments and free up room for the next batch of shipments.

Alternative solutions

There are viable alternatives to 100% screening at the airport that ensure the security of a flight is never compromised. Des Vertannes, IATA’s Global Head of Cargo, is keen to point out that good security and efficient processes go hand-in-hand.

“We’re advocating a mutli-layered approach,” he notes. “Efficient risk assessment can be facilitated by using a combination of advanced electronic information and physical screening. It’s a very complex issue because each country has its own rules and so they are implementing different requirements. But we can solve the problems if we take it step by step.”

IATA and ICAO are aligned on a supply chain approach to cargo security. The concept is to ensure that shipments are secured upstream in the supply chain and then are transported in a secure environment and delivered as secure cargo to the aircraft operator.

There are a number of elements within this philosophy, one of which is the need for standardized electronic data. IATA has been working through the recently established Cargo Security Task Force (CSTF) with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and ICAO as well as carriers and regulators worldwide to harmonize cargo requirements.

The association recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the WCO, which includes cooperation on air cargo security. Work has begun on reviewing the timelines for submission of advance electronic information for risk assessment through the WCO’s SAFE Framework of Standards. ICAO is now recommending the use of the standard security declaration in its guidance material and is amending Annex 17 to that effect. The standard consignment security declaration provides an audit trail of how, when, and by whom cargo has been secured along the supply chain. IATA presented the standard consignment security declaration at the Stakeholders Advisory Group on Aviation Security (SAGAS) meeting in late September.

There have also been discussions with the European Commission on revising its regulations regarding cargo security and with the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on advance electronic information. IATA is participating in the US CBP/TSA Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) pilot in the United States, which centers on collecting data for inbound cargo.

Mutual recognition

Aligning the major markets is an important start but supply chain security must win global acceptance. If one country’s secure supply chain program is not recognized by another country, it could result in a costly duplication of the screening procedures. '

It is critical, therefore, to promote mutual recognition of the national security programs. IATA is working with the regulators and international organizations to this end. “Every country has the same goal, which is to make cargo secure,” says Vertannes.

Through the Secure Freight program, IATA is providing assistance and advice to countries to implement a secure supply chain program where none exists. Major shippers have generally been happy to comply with the program, seeing the benefits of the streamlined process.

“All this work needs to be complemented by better technology,” says Ken Dunlap, IATA Global Director, Security and Travel Facilitation. “This is coming. We want to be able to directly screen a ULD without breaking them down and of course any scan has to be as quick as possible too so we can improve throughput.”

Special cargo

Outside of these efforts is special cargo. Tackling such diverse areas as live animals, medical supplies, or oversized parts such as heavy machinery is highly complex. It involves specialists and regulators in the particular area as well as the usual stakeholders. Each aspect of special cargo is a story in itself but each needs to be integrated into the whole to ensure greater efficiency.

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