Asia's cargo industry is bracing itself for the impact of a new US regulation requiring 100% screening of air freight being flown into the country.

Amid concerns that the move could bring airport freight transfers to a standstill, one executive said that it threatens to severely disrupt trade and create huge costs to the industry if it goes ahead next year as planned.

The Transportation Security Administration will enforce the rule next August requiring all air cargo arriving in the bellyholds of passenger airliners to be physically screened - either through detection, x-ray, or canine or hand search.

Hong Kong International Airport's cargo manager B S Chow told delegates during the Air Freight Asia 2009 cargo conference at Asian Aerospace that if all the cargo screening was to be undertaken at airports rather than upstream at the supplier or manufacturer "then everything will be at a standstill".

Wally Nahr of Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding Agents warns that the rule "will totally disrupt trade to the USA, will have huge cost implications and force cargo to come into the country other ways".

Nahr said that while he believed that 100% screening would improve safety, it would not make cargo operations 100% safe.

This view was shared by every other member of the conference panel, which included David Fielder of air cargo association FIATA, who asks: "Does the cost warrant it on a risk/reward basis?"

Fielder points out that one way to circumnavigate the rule is to fly cargo into Canada, and then truck it across the border. Another is to fly freight on all-cargo aircraft as this does not have to comply with the TSA rule, but it cannot travel beyond its arrival airport by air without being screened. However, Fielder expects the TSA will look to include all-cargo aircraft in the longer term once the belly freight rule has been implemented.

Nahr, who says that the European Union has written to the US government to object to the regulation, believes that a major stumbling block is the fact that the TSA will not have sufficient manpower to complete the certification.

Industry sources expect that while it is unlikely that the USA will delay the timing of the 100% rule, it will work with companies and countries that cannot meet the deadline to avoid serious disruption.

Source: Flight International