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New canine screening of air cargo highlights potential for less airport congestion


After years of development work, faster and more accurate air cargo security screening by third-party canine screening firms has now taken a major step forward. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has approved and certified teams from three private canine screening firms to implement air cargo screening measures at airports around the USA. Several other canine screening companies are awaiting their certifications as well.

The speed and accuracy of canine screening over other methods can dramatically reduce acceptance time at air cargo facilities, which will mean faster processing of freight at cargo terminals, reducing truck detention times and improving driver utilization. Truck line waits are viewed as major concerns by carriers in airports such as Atlanta (ATL), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) and New York Kennedy (JFK), among others.

The significant milestone achieved in this area was a major agenda topic at Air Cargo 2019, the air cargo industry’s annual conference that kicked off in Las Vegas earlier this week and was attended by several hundred industry stakeholders. The conference is sponsored by three key industry associations – the Airforwarders Association (AfA), the Air and Expedited Motor Carrier Association (AEMCA) and Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA). Other stakeholders involved in working with TSA decision-makers to accomplish this included airline groups, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airlines 4 America (A4A).

The TSA views canine screening as one key layer in a multi-layer screening process. Testing by the TSA and industry over the past several years has demonstrated the superiority of canine screening over other technologies (i.e. x-ray, CTX, explosive trace), in terms of accuracy and speed. Canines can screen cargo faster than x-ray screening. For cargo tendered by forwarders already built-up on airline pallets, dogs can screen the entire pallet and avoid the need to break them down to screen at the piece level and rebuild them.  

Five canine companies – AMK9, Cargo Screening K9 Alliance, Global K9 Protection Group, K2 Solutions and MSA Security – were active participants in the conference and panel session to go over remaining questions and issues. These companies, among others, are now marketing their canine screening and supporting technology capabilities to airlines, ground handlers, freight forwarders and third-party screeners within the air cargo industry.  

Industry feedback regarding the TSA approval was positive. Brandon Fried, Executive Director of the Airforwarders Association was bullish, noting “this is one of the most significant leaps we have taken as an organization and as an industry.” From a freight forwarder standpoint, Fried noted, “Now we have a tool that really takes us away from technology and puts emphasis on a more expedited method of screening. So when we talk about airport congestion, one of the reasons for those backups is because freight forwarders that aren’t in the Cargo Certified Screening Program are waiting to get their cargo screened at the cargo terminal, and those handlers that are employing canines will get that process done a lot faster.” Fried emphasized, however, that airport cargo congestion is also driven by infrastructure issues, lack of investment and airports not built to 21st century standards.

Mike White, President of Cargo Network Services, an IATA member company, highlighted the efficiency of the canine screening process and that its advent is well-timed because the current generation of x-ray machines is nearing the end of its life expectancy, and would need further TSA approvals to continue. He noted that the longer-term solution the air cargo industry needs to work towards is using more data-driven methods to target suspicious cargo, utilizing air waybill and house air waybill data and tying in all of the 100 percent screening factors.    

Other industry participants were also favorable, but felt canine screening would take some time to deploy and gain full air cargo industry adoption, only after which the full benefits for truckers would be felt.