A Balancing Act

Air cargo mandates, maintaining flow of commerce always a concern

Many of us arrive at the airport extra early, not simply to catch our flights, but to factor in getting through security. Standing in line, taking off our shoes, watches, belts and jackets, removing the laptop from its bag, putting the briefcase and carry-on luggage through an X-ray machine, walking through a metal detector and, in some cases, being subject to a pat down or body scan, then putting everything back together again is a dreary, time-consuming screening process—all to make sure we can be trusted to safely board the plane.

But what about those items going into the belly of the same plane you boarded after undergoing such extensive passenger security measures? The issue of how to mitigate the risk of an event in air cargo has largely been off-radar over the past few years, taking a back seat to passenger and baggage screening. That is about to change.

A Shift in Priority
The 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 mandates the screening of 50 percent of all cargo transported on passenger aircraft by February.

The Transportation Security Administration is now lawfully charged with finding the technology to screen all cargo being transported on passenger planes by August 2010. Funding and implementing the technologies is another story.

Specific language of the legislation allows for incremental increases in cargo screening, requiring that 50 percent be screened at a “level of security commensurate with the level of security for the screening of passenger checked baggage” with the 100 percent rule taking effect no later than three years following enactment.

These measures make sense, as air cargo presents a significant risk, but what about the challenges of implementation?

In the early weeks and months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was difficult to know what measures needed to take priority. Though the attacks were in the United States, the concern was felt worldwide. The United States’ response included the creation of TSA, charged with the responsibility of addressing a security landscape that had literally changed overnight. Tasked with ensuring the continued viability of mass transit solutions including planes, trains and buses, the newly created organization was managing both new and existing threats while enhancing security in and around the nation’s airports, train stations and bus terminals.

In order to increase security in airports, TSA has aggressively evaluated and tested every new viable security solution and technology available. The extensive testing process has resulted in the deployment of new technologies in airport lobbies, security checkpoints, gates and baggage handling areas. Overall, TSA has raised security and adjusted nearly all processes and conceptual operations.

In the effort to mitigate threats and improve overall security, it has been concluded in airport security that no simple “silver bullet” solution exists. The improvement process has been gradual as airports have limitations and individual challenges that must be addressed carefully and purposefully.

Starting with metal detectors and X-ray machines, new technologies have been added to create layered solutions, including explosives trace detectors, advanced X-ray systems and even body scanning.

Air Cargo Screening
The challenges of addressing and enhancing air cargo screening are somewhat unique as cargo may arrive days or minutes before being loaded onto a plane for final transport. TSA has largely relied on the industry’s use of the known shipper program and have supplemented screening measures with canine teams and TSA cargo inspectors to ensure air cargo safety.

Air cargo continues to be a significant worldwide business with a daily average of nearly 12 million pounds of cargo transported on passenger aircraft. Congressional oversight has focused on this important security issue, and Congress has worked closely with TSA to enhance and strengthen air cargo security measures, but challenges remain.

The air cargo business is dependent on floor space and speed of transport. Giving up even a portion of either space or speed significantly impacts the bottom line. But the fact remains the mandate is in place and, to some degree, has now been extended.

Recently, TSA and the directorate-general for energy and transport for the European Union signed an agreement regarding air cargo security measures, aligning the international community in the effort to control risk. Some of the goals for the agreement include implementing the 50 percent rule internationally by February with 100 percent screened by the end of 2010.

Speed of Commerce
Time and space. As mentioned earlier, these two simple factors largely determine the viability of the air cargo business. Screening and security impact both of these elements, potentially creating problems for the industry. To mitigate these impacts, we expect to see companies buying a good deal of screening equipment to deploy it in as many locations as possible. This will help eliminate any choke points and keep the cargo moving through the process of being unloaded, checked, staged, loaded and shipped. We also could see cargo being screened further up the supply chain, earlier in the process, for the same reason.

Like the initial issues with airport passenger checkpoints, it will be a process that improves over time with advances in technology, conceptual operations and staff training adjustments necessary to implement changes. Fortunately, a great deal of technology development has occurred in response to the checkpoint security concerns. The technology is multi-capable and can be used for air cargo as well.

Officials from Smiths Detection have been working with air carriers, freight forwarders and package delivery companies to help implement and deploy solutions that will comply with TSA’s mandates. For example, seven of the top eight major U.S. air carriers have acquired and deployed almost 400 desktop explosive trace detection systems for air cargo screening operations. Smiths Detection has three ETD systems on the air cargo product list that enable carriers to scan all air cargo for 40 different explosives.

X-ray systems are another solution that has proven effective in scanning air cargo. The configurations of the machines themselves depend on the conceptual operations of the facility and space. In some cases, entire pallets are scanned through large X-ray systems. Where space is an issue, smaller X-ray systems have been used to enable break-bulk package scanning.

Unique Challenges
The challenge of air cargo screening is two-fold: maintaining an appropriate level of security while ensuring the profitability of the business. TSA and air carriers will rely heavily on technologies that will move cargo through quickly and still accurately scan for potential security threats. Technology advancement is the key to mitigate the time-consuming effects of air cargo screening.

Some upcoming technologies will likely include advanced integration solutions with remote capabilities that will tie in existing proven technologies and accommodate technology advancements.

“Sensors or technologies will be linked together seamlessly through VoIP connection platforms, such as its FirstView, thus maximizing layered security solutions,” company officials said.

VoIP platform solutions also will provide costeffective ways to extend the reach of the sensors and data coming from the complex airport environment to the TSA officers and other appropriate airport officials. Sensors from both inside and outside the airport will be monitored remotely, providing officials with real-time data and monitoring of the entire airport environment through secure internet access including command and control, laptop computers and IP handheld devices.

The air cargo industry also anticipates seeing the integration of manifest management software, which would provide a more comprehensive electronic package of information specific to each piece of cargo. This would be used for record keeping and forensics if necessary.

As the air cargo mandate deadlines quickly arrive, we are confident the industry will continue to work closely and constructively with TSA to develop and implement solutions that will meet these new security standards without slowing down commerce.

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Security Today.

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