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Significant Changes in Air Cargo Security are on the Horizon in 2021

Article submitted by: Airforwarders Association – TIACA Affiliate Member and Strategic Partner


Written by: Brandon Fried, Executive Director

Starting in June of 2021, shipments transported on international all-cargo flights must receive the same scrutiny of those transported on passenger planes or received from a TSA regulated entity that has applied appropriate security controls. No specific plan is in place yet, and the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently seeking public feedback on ways to meet the mandate. At the same time, a divided industry decides the best, most safe path to take.

It’s no secret that during the coronavirus pandemic, most of us have relied heavily on ordering goods and services online, especially groceries and everyday household items. The e-Commerce retailing sector is enjoying the most robust expansion since its beginning with no end in sight. Air cargo is an essential component of the distribution process to satisfy demand and to provide fast and efficient delivery amid spiking orders.

Understandably, online retailers, especially those utilizing their aircraft, are looking for fast, efficient, and inexpensive ways to meet the new international cargo security mandate. One idea is to create a fortified program within the warehouse or distribution center environment that increases facility and personnel security protocols. Assuring that doors and windows get locked and enhancing employee identification procedures are indeed laudable business practices for any organization. Improving security in these areas is always a good idea, especially for theft and pilferage prevention, but not necessarily to meet the upcoming air cargo security requirement.

Boxes transiting through online retailer distribution centers and warehouses are generally assumed to include the products indicated outside each container. However, rarely are these contents verified, which creates a vulnerability in the process and allows malicious actors to substitute the contents of a box of goods with an improvised explosive device. The bomb could bring harm to a freighter aircraft in flight, its crew, and the people on the ground under its path.

Several years ago, in anticipation of mandated cargo screening requirements, The US Transportation Security Administration initiated a highly successful supply-driven solution known as the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP).  The CCSP allows manufacturers, retailers, freight forwarders, and other certified entities to perform cargo screening before tendering shipments to transport carriers.

CCSP now has over 1000 certified entities and serves as an ideal example of industry and government to make sure that our skies are safe. This new mandate is the perfect opportunity to expand the initiative in assuring an equal level of safety and security for freighter flights.

The use of trained canine teams supplied by TSA certified private companies remains an essential tool in meeting the passenger-cargo screening law. While technology remains a necessary aspect of the process, these dog teams not only screen freight quickly and efficiently but also at a low cost.  The all-cargo flights will undoubtedly reap the same safety benefit as their passenger counterparts by using this inexpensive and efficient method of assuring the same security on their planes.

Imposing a new security program will likely not attract a significant number of online retailers and all-cargo flight shippers as participants. Instead, another regime will confuse existing regulated carriers as they struggle to adhere to specific training, marking, and handling process requirements of similar, yet very different existing programs. The confusion will create delays, incur additional costs for the government, and might result in other vulnerabilities to our safety and security.

Air cargo security requirements should focus on keeping goods moving quickly, regardless of how items are sold or warehoused or the type of airplane used to deliver them to the customer. The only way to assure the utmost in safety is to know what is inside the box will harm planes and those flying them. Now is the time to leverage an already proven success by using the CCSP to fulfill this upcoming international all-cargo security mandate without delay.