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TSA seeks enhanced screening capabilities for air cargo (with video)

Industry collaboration, new technology are key to supply chain security, cargo chief says at FreightWaves LIVE @HOME

Bomb-sniffing dogs are part of the Transportation Security Administration's program for securing air cargo. (Photo: MSA Security)

Federal regulators want to improve industry’s ability to perform air cargo security checks and explosives detection technology to help meet forthcoming international requirements for screening 100% of export freight on all-cargo aircraft, the Transportation Security Administration’s air cargo chief said Thursday.

Since 2010 all cargo riding in the bottom of passenger airplanes must go through a detection device or be physically inspected by airline or logistics personnel prior to loading. 

Scheduled to go into effect in June, the new requirements for inspecting cargo on freighters will “be a game changer,” John Beckius, executive director of the air cargo division at TSA, said in virtual remarks during the FreightWaves LIVE @HOME event.

John Beckius, executive director for air cargo at the Transportation Security Administration (left) and Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association.

The TSA is working to develop security regulations that comply with the international standards so other countries can’t block cargo flights from the U.S. from landing or subject shipments to lengthy inspection delays. The extra obligations are expected to raise shipping costs for cargo owners and create possible tensions within the industry if online retailers seek a carve-out from shipment screening on the basis of having secure facilities.

“We always want to optimize and enhance industry’s abilities in the cargo screening realm,” Beckius said. “Whether it’s assisting industry with testing techniques internally, or better methods for screening itself, even training, we want to look at ways to increase proficiency out there to make sure we’re doing the best we can to find the potential threats.”

The division’s other top priority is helping to develop next-generation X-ray systems for screening pallets, he added.

Steve Alternman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, said the TSA needs Congress to help fund research and development of new explosive detection machines. 

“Often R&D money is the last that gets out the door. … So, we need to look at new ways of screening and doing R&D. We really need to convince Congress that that money is well spent,” he said during the program.

Differences in shipment type and size present technical challenges to scan products such as fresh flowers, frozen fish or machinery in a uniform manner, experts say.

The creation of a third-party canine screening program two years ago has proved enormously beneficial to the industry as an efficient alternative for checking large pallets or goods that can’t be imaged for technical reasons, industry officials say.

There currently are nine independent canine companies certified by the TSA to provide screening services to air carriers and certified screening facilities. Together they provide more than 200 explosive-sniffing dogs that screen cargo at about 25 U.S. airports, Beckius said. 

“The only problem we’ve got with the third-party canine program is there aren’t enough canines,” Alterman added.

One of the biggest third-party providers of canine teams is New York-based MSA Security. The firm has more than 100 certified TSA canine teams at major air hubs across the country.

TSA has made great strides in the past couple years with the reintroduction of a dedicated air cargo division that centralized policymaking, made it easier for industry to address any issues and improved intelligence sharing, said Alterman, whose organization represents a half-dozen carriers, including the big express delivery companies.

“Today’s intelligence-sharing capabilities compared to five years ago are light years apart. … And we need to keep developing those relationships because the key thing is trust. We need to trust each other and give each other the information,” he said.

Beckius said he remembers the days when the government simply ordered industry to do things without an explanation.

“And now with the increased intelligence sharing and having industry partners that are cleared at a secret level and can come in and get a secret-level briefing on intelligence activity, it lends credibility for us when we’re asking the industry to do more, or different, security features because of current threats,” he concurred. “It’s built our credibility.”

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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  1. Adam Bell

    This is an excellent look at what is to come in air cargo screening. As a 3PK9 CCSP Handler it’s good to know that things will be taken with great insight and communication

  2. MacBob

    In other important news from the air, a two-seater Cessna 152 plane crashed into a cemetery early this morning in New York. A search and rescue team led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recovered 200 bodies so far, and expects that number to climb as digging continues into the evening.

Comments are closed.

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]