TSA to test private sector dogs for screening
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has finally given approval to test the feasibility of private companies using explosive detection canines as another tool for inspecting cargo before it is placed in the bellies of passenger aircraft, an agency official said last week.
Under a law that went into full effect last August, all cargo originating in the United States or arriving from overseas must be checked to prevent terrorists from smuggling a bomb onboard that could take down an aircraft. Airlines have primary responsibility for conducting the exams, but TSA set up a certification program allowing shippers and freight forwarders to self-inspect packages while packing or consolidating shipments in an effort to relieve the burden on airlines and prevent large backlogs at the airport. The challenge comes from the requirement that inspections be done at the piece level, meaning that unit load devices and pallets have to be disassembled if the shipment hasn't been prescreened.
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Companies can use imaging machines, explosive trace detection and physical searches to meet the screening mandate, but no technology exists yet that can screen ULDs with multiple commodities. The best advance to this point is an X-ray machine that can take images of shipper-built pallets no larger than 40 inches-by 48 inches by 65 inches of homogenous products.
TSA now plans to study whether dogs could be another potential option for inspecting a large consolidated load.
'We could conceivably certify somebody's canine program that is not TSA-operated' so that airlines, freight forwarders, shippers or private security firms could use private canine teams, Douglas Brittin, TSA's general manager for air cargo told reporters outside a supply chain competitiveness forum hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
TSA has 120 canine teams dedicated to screening cargo at airline facilities. They are primarily used as another layer of defense to sniff cargo for explosives on a random basis, but occasionally can be deployed to help airlines with their screening process.
The pilot program is being pursued at the request of industry to use dogs because of the added flexibility they provide in meeting the screening requirements, Brittin said. He disclosed more than 18 months ago that the agency was considering whether companies in the Certified Cargo Screening Program should have the ability to use dog teams for inspections.
Approving canines for private sector use likely will be a lengthy process, just as it is for other types of TSA-approved screening technologies. It also took almost two years to set up the CCSP protocols for shippers to do screening instead of airlines or TSA.
The pilot would help TSA evaluate what the dogs are capable of doing 'and ensure that they are trained and continue to operate under our standards,' Brittin said.
Brittin cautioned canine teams are expensive, costing more than $100,000 per year for a handler, dog, equipment and supplies. Dogs can also only work three or four hours a day before their sense of smell deteriorates. ' Eric Kulisch