TSA offers inbound cargo screening option
The Transportation Security Administration is exploring the viability of authorizing airline representatives in foreign countries to screen cargo on their behalf to help close the gap between screened and unscreened cargo on passenger flights, said a Department of Homeland Security official with close knowledge of the situation.
Under the congressional mandate that went into effect on Aug. 1, all cargo on passenger planes must be screened at the piece level by the airlines, or certified shippers and freight forwarders. The rule was implemented with few noticeable delays because of intensive legwork by the TSA and the air cargo industry. One-quarter to one-third of inbound international cargo is still not screened because the agency doesn't have the authority to impose the same rules overseas, agency officials have publicly stated.
Instead, the TSA has used its standard security program for foreign airlines entering the U.S. market as the vehicle to gradually ratchet up the amount of cargo they screen.
The TSA has indicated it may take until mid-2013 to achieve the screening mandate for inbound flights, but is under pressure to move faster. Bills have also been introduced on both chambers of Congress to expand the 100 percent mandate to cargo-only planes in the wake of the Yemen-based parcel bomb plot targeted at U.S. planes.
The agency is entertaining the idea of allowing freight forwarders with facilities near airports to do inspections using an airline's screening protocols to help spread the burden, the official said on condition of anonymity because approval has not been granted to speak to the press.
In the United States, the TSA set up the Certified Cargo Screening Program so that parties up the supply chain can screen prior to cargo arriving at the airport and help prevent backlogs. Companies can use X-ray, explosive trace detection or physical checks to meet the requirement. Screening during the packing process is a big benefit to shippers because unscreened pallets and other consolidated shipments must be disassembled and screened by logistics companies or airlines, opening the possibility of delayed or damaged cargo.
The difference is that each facility is a standalone entity that must be certified by TSA as meeting its screening criteria, whereas the overseas version would involve the forwarder as the airline's authorized representative.
The official said that no airlines have stepped forward since the idea was broached last summer. 'Nobody has raised their hand and taken advantage to run a pilot like this,' the source said. ' Eric Kulisch