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.
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.”