MIAMI — Companies that ship oversize or liquid products could be prevented from using air transport if by Oct. 31 they don’t adopt security measures to check for explosives. That’s when  a Transportation Security Administration exemption from 100% cargo screening expires. 

The U.S. two years ago implemented a scan-all requirement for international outbound shipments moving on freighter aircraft, raising the security bar to the same level in place for a decade for cargo carried on passenger aircraft. Airlines, logistics companies and other entities can use X-ray, explosives trace detection machines, canine detectors or physical search to comply. 

The TSA granted a temporary allowance for unique shipments that are difficult to screen, such as drums with chemicals, large machinery and jet engines. Shippers essentially can vouch on paperwork that the goods are secure. 

That allowance sunsets in four months and the TSA is urging shippers to quickly sign up for the Certified Cargo Screening Facility (CCSF) program, which allows non-airline companies that follow TSA-approved criteria to inspect cargo and tender it to the airlines following strict chain-of-custody requirements. The program was created to prevent backlogs at crowded airline warehouses by pushing more security checks upstream.

“We are encouraging industry participants to move into the CCSF program because what we don’t want, come Nov. 1, are problems in the supply chain,” said John Beckius, executive director of the TSA’s air cargo division, at an air cargo conference here in early June.

Manufacturers essentially will need to get facilities certified by the TSA so they can screen themselves themselves at locations where the products are built. The TSA’s proposal is similar to U.N.-recognized “known consignor” programs in many countries, which allow companies that ship goods to demonstrate they have secure facilities and common security protocols to prevent tampering in lieu of physical detection.

Another option is for businesses to use certified forwarders, ground handlers or independent security firms to do the screening, but some could reject unusual shipments because of the difficulty in screening them after they’ve been packed for transport. 

The TSA is appealing to trade associations and companies in the air logistics sector to spread the message about “impossible to screen” cargo because it doesn’t regulate shippers, as it does airlines and forwarders, and can’t reach them directly.

“We’re really trying to get this word out now because of the time that it takes to apply and get approved. And it’s not overnight. We’d like people to just give us three months to approve them,” Beckius told attendees at the Cargo Network Services event. “We really want to get them thinking about it earlier rather than later.” 

The TSA’s air cargo chief hailed the success of the third-party canine screening program, which allows air logistics stakeholders to hire private canine handlers to screen freight.

Sniffer dogs are popular because they are extremely good at detecting explosives and can efficiently check large pallets and products that can’t go through an X-ray machine, often at a lower cost.

When 100% screening expanded two years ago, there were about 200 K-9 teams in operation nationwide. Now there are almost 1,000 teams spread among 10 approved companies, Beckius said.

The TSA two years ago also gave manufacturers, fulfillment centers and other entities with strict security protocols the ability to deem their shipments secure and avoid cargo screening procedures, subject to periodic TSA audits and inspections. The decision was opposed by many freight forwarders, who argued it gave e-commerce retailers and other large companies an advantage.

But no companies signed up to participate because eligible companies perceived the rules as too onerous, Beckius said. The TSA plans to submit a revised proposal this summer, he added. 

Click here for more FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.


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