A stronger commitment to existing information and intelligence-based approaches to air cargo security looks likely to result from the discovery of explosives in ink cartridges being shipped from Yemen to the US on express aircraft on 29 October

In a written statement to the Air Cargo Forum, a biannual gathering of the air cargo industry in Amsterdam held this week, Doug Brittin, air cargo manager for the US Transportation Security Administration said “significant steps” were being taken to tighten security in response to the incident, but went on to cite existing TSA initiatives such as its Certified Cargo Screening Program, which involves forwarders and shippers in checking air cargo shipments, and recognition of the cargo screening programmes of other national governments. 

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This chimes with the existing approach of the air cargo industry, which ever since the events of 9/11 has stressed a combination of pre-screening by freight forwarders, checks on shipper identities, and intelligence gathering as a response to the terrorist threat, with scans or physical checks focused on high risk items. 

The intelligence-led approach will have been strengthened by the fact that the suspect parcels were apparently not detected by conventional x-ray scanning. Speaking at the Air Cargo Forum, Peter Bakker, chief executive of TNT, revealed that there had been a further incident of this kind on 2 November, when the Greek authorities alerted TNT to a suspicious package on its 737 flight from Athens to Liège in Belgium. 

The aircraft was diverted to Bologna in Italy, and the package was found to contain explosives.  The incident could have been connected with a spate of parcel bombs mailed in Greece on 1 and 2 November, apparently sent by local anarchists. 

Bakker confirmed that the package had been scanned prior to departure. He declined to say what percentage of TNT parcels are normally screened in this way, but he did say that to screen every package would not be practical, given the massive volumes of them that fly globally every day. 

“Of course we need to be careful and put security at the highest level, but we must not damage global commerce,” he said. “We should take a risk-based approach. Screening every package and every shipper will be overkill.” 

One step the TSA might take is to demand more information about shipments earlier in the transporation process. Currently airlines have to provide details of cargo shipments to the US four hours before the aircraft arrives. That may now be extended to providing information pre-flight.

Ram Menen, divisional senior vice president cargo for Emirates, expects some such move by the TSA, and says it will be “a game changer” for the digitisation of shipment information currently being promoted by the IATA e-freight project, the cargo counterpart of its e-ticketing initiative.

Progress on e-freight has so far been sluggish, with forwarders in particular dragging their feet on the project. But Menen reckons pre-flight information demands can only be met by both forwarders and carriers engaging with e-freight, giving the initiative the boost it needs to reach critical mass.

Source: Airline Business