Airlines adapt to new air cargo security hurdle
U.S. airlines are experiencing modest impact so far in meeting the government's Oct. 1 deadline to screen all cargo on narrow-body passenger aircraft, according to industry and government officials.
Southwest Airlines, an early investor in X-ray equipment for piece shipments, has not experienced any noticeable delays in cargo transport, according to Mark Rossi, chief of the Transportation Security Administration's new program to get upstream businesses to screen their cargo before arrival at the airport. Southwest Cargo said on its Web site that the new procedures only required minor adjustments to its cutoff time for accepting cargo.
United Airlines is also meeting the new mandate without problems, said George Trapp, head of regulatory and government affairs for courier and cross-border logistics provider Purolator USA. But Rossi added that the airline had to reconfigure its staffing levels and add some extra equipment to iron out difficulties in the initial days.
Both men spoke Thursday at a small conference in Arlington, Va., organized by the Express Delivery and Logistics Association (XLA).
A couple of airlines have reported glitches involving multi-lot shipments, according to a source familiar with the program. The problem arises when pallets are broken down for individual piece screening and the pieces get disconnected. Pieces split from the pack face delays until the airline finds an alternative flight.
United Cargo, in a bulletin, has advised customers to tender shipments, especially those with large piece counts, as early as possible.
'Allowing sufficient time for required screening will ensure your shipment is transported on the booked United flight(s),' it said.
Delta Air Lines added more automated inspection systems and personnel, along with an expanded training program last summer in preparation for the screening deadline, spokesman Anthony Black said. The carrier also evaluated each facility and adjusted the flow of goods and processes where necessary to minimize backlogs without changing service parameters, he added.
Requiring airlines to check cargo on single-aisle planes, such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, for weapons or hazards that could bring a plane down is part of the TSA's plan to meet a post-9/11 congressional mandate that 50 percent of cargo carried by passenger planes be screened by Feb. 1. The law requires 100 percent inspection in the passenger environment by August 2010.
The TSA is developing a Certified Cargo Screening Program designed to relieve pressure on airlines by encouraging shippers, logistics providers, freight forwarders and other cargo handlers to screen cargo in advance. Under the voluntary program, shippers who meet TSA criteria would be approved to verify that each shipment at the piece level was securely packed and sealed. Forwarders would have authority to deconsolidate large shipments and inspect each carton by physical or technical means before repacking the goods for secure transport to the airline ramp. The TSA must audit and certify each facility seeking to participate in the program.
The agency has recruited 14 large freight forwarders to install and use scanning and explosive trace detection equipment to gather data on which technology systems are most efficient, accurate and reliable.
Although 96 percent of U.S.-launched flights are of the narrow-body variety, the remaining 4 percent of wide-body flights handle 75 percent of the cargo. The Certified Cargo Screening Program is targeted at inspecting cargo that moves on large aircraft to domestic and international destinations.
United Airlines Cargo officials who briefed the XLA's board last week said they would not be able to handle all the cargo screening requirements themselves and would have to close some locations for cargo without the plan to spread responsibility for security, Trapp said.
United facilities at John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York, for example, do not have significant capacity to do scanning themselves.
Rossi confidently stated that the TSA will meet the 50 percent inspection goal through the narrow-body screening requirement, screening by forwarders in the technology pilot, and volunteer shippers and forwarders doing screening with manual checks or equipment purchased on their own.
His office will probably begin to certify within the next two weeks the 14 indirect air carriers participating in the technology pilot, he said. That will set the stage for the initial launch of the screening program.
The TSA has processed applications for 200 other businesses that are prepared to do inspections. TSA is expected to soon complete drafting a commitment letter that shippers must sign accepting their security responsibilities and TSA oversight of their activities. The memorandum of understanding, the last step before achieving certification, is necessary because TSA only has statutory authority over airlines and forwarders, not shippers.
The agency also plans to soon issue alternate procedures spelling out for airlines how to accept and secure shipments from Certified Cargo Screening Facilities.
Both administrative steps must be completed before the shipper screening program can officially begin to process live cargo. ' Eric Kulisch