When the US Congress passed the Homeland Security Regulation 1: Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act in July 2007, it was in many ways air cargo's worst nightmare.

The law mandated something that the air cargo industry had been frantically lobbying against ever since 11 September 2001 - the 100% physical screening of all US belly cargo by 3 August 2010, with 50% to be screened by 3 February 2009. Airlines generally agreed before the law was passed that 100% screening would cause serious bottlenecks at airports and force cargo from air to land or sea.

A particular problem would be built-up pallets and containers of cargo, which are currently ­provided by major forwarders to airlines on high volume routes. Airlines can't currently screen these without breaking them down into their constituent boxes, because suitable scanners or explosive detection devices are simply not available: cargo is too dense, or the images produced by scanners too complex to be reliably interpreted.

The US Transportation Security Administration's response has been to create the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP). This would allow shippers (the manufacturers and exporters who originate the cargo), or their freight forwarder intermediaries, to carry out cargo screening on their premises, provided they met strict TSA-inspected criteria. The screened containers would then be sent in a secure chain of custody - probably using tamper-proof seals - to the airlines, which would not have to perform any further inspections.

Lufthansa Cargo
 © Werner Kruger/Lufthansa

The TSA postulates that once 100% screening is up and running, 35% of cargo will be screened by CCSP-compliant shippers and 25% by forwarders, leaving only 9% of palletised cargo to be screened by airlines. The remaining 31% will consist of 6% of cargo screened by the TSA itself, and 25% narrowbody cargo, which is tendered loose (as individual boxes, not pallets) and so is easily screened by carriers.

But the problem with the CCSP is that it is a voluntary programme, and Congress has voted no money to help forwarders equip themselves to meet its requirements. The TSA hopes commercial logic and the prospect of slow transit times through airports if they do not comply will get forwarders on board.

Some airlines agree. "The disruption if they don't join the CCSP will cost supply chain participants far more than they will have to pay to be compliant," says American Airlines president cargo Dave Brooks. "I think this programme has a lot of value, because it moves screening upstream to the place where it can be done most effectively."


To date there seems to have been a lot of resistance from forwarders, however. This has not been helped by the fact that in mid-October the TSA was still finalising details of what CCSP accreditation would involve - it was working with 14 forwarders in 58 locations on a pilot scheme - and had not yet issued a list of approved scanning equipment.

But the TSA insisted that all was on track to meet the February 2009 milestone of 50% screening, and it gets support in this from Brooks, who says that American Airlines - and other US airlines - "know exactly what we need to do, and are investing what it takes to comply with the new law".

American has invested $2 million in 51 explosive detection machines. Lufthansa Cargo says it has made "double-digit euro investments" and has turned its New York, Chicago and Los Angeles facilities into "security hubs", with physical access barriers, video surveillance, explosive detection equipment, and biometric checks.

Harald Zielinski - Lufthansa Cargo
"It is not possible to have 15 processes for 15 different security standards in one warehouse"
Harald Zielinski
Director security, Lufthansa Cargo

The confidence of both the TSA and Brooks is based on the fact that the 50% deadline can be met largely without tackling the problem of built-up pallets and containers. Brooks himself admits that "the slope will get steeper for everyone" as the industry moves towards the 2010 deadline. "Either we need an approved new technology that can screen pallets, or we need a very successful CCSP roll out. Probably we need both," he says.

Meanwhile, there is the question of what will happen to cargo from other countries that flies into the US. The TSA has presented no plan to certify foreign-based forwarders or shippers, but there are hints that it might recognise the security regimes in some other countries - most notably the UK, on whose cargo security regime it admits the CCSP is partly modelled.

Such recognition would be welcome to airlines, which often bewail the fact that there has been no global co-ordination of cargo security regimes since 9/11. There seemed to be some hope before the current US law that the US could harmonise its approach with the European Union, which is also tightening up its security regime, but the 100% screening rule put an end to that.

Harald Zielinksi, director security and environmental management for Lufthansa Cargo, says he is getting increased calls from Asian governments, asking for advice on strengthening their security regimes. He worries that carriers might end up being faced with multiple security requirements. "It is not possible to have 15 processes for 15 different security standards in one warehouse," he says. "We need simple, stringent and consistent measures."

To read about the impact of price-fixing accusations on the air cargo industry: flightglobal.com/pricefixing

Source: Airline Business