Secretary Chertoff has articulated many times in differing formats that there is no such thing as 100% security. We need to apply these lessons to the current debate on air cargo security. We need to understand that resilience is best enhanced through risk assessment and resource allocation.

The 21st century has brought about tremendous innovation in supply chain management. The logistics concept of “just-in-time” (JIT) has reduced costs of inventories while increasing productivity. Freight carried on commercial aircraft forms the backbone of the JIT model. Now the U.S. government is faced with a policy decision which could have devastating effects on this robust air commerce system.

Scanning 100% of the packages that process through this system is a focus of the 9/11 Bill. Many people interpret this process as being similar to the treatment a traveler’s bag receives at the airport security checkpoint. Logistically, however, this is simply impossible.

Implementing the 100% requirement will create a net effect to completely cripple our economy. Transit time will be measured in days – not hours. We simply do not have the capacity to initiate this level of inspection. Even if we did, the resulting delays to shipping timelines will devastate both ends of the supply chain while overwhelming the system itself. Our adversaries’ stated goal is to bring down the Western economy; crippling our air commerce system will be a significant step toward accomplishing this goal.

Alternatively, looking at the problem of air security through the lens of technology allows for new ways to address old concerns. Screening must be a system of systems, which are continuously validating the authenticity of each and every shipment in the supply chain. Information sharing – which may necessitate additional waybill data fields and entail near real time analysis as to the ownership, contents, payment method, and custodial parameters of every shipment – can be accomplished. Massive quantities of packages are shipped by highly respected legitimate businesses every day. Effective screening of these can be done through automation and machine learning.

Resilience in the air commerce system is critical to be able to absorb a constantly shifting set of variables while maintaining functionality. Building public/private partnerships will be the key to establishing a targeted, risk-based strategy of information sharing and data analysis to give us the needed tools – the answer will not be found by defaulting to the boots-on-the-ground mode of working around the clock looking at packages.

Our air commerce system is at risk from terrorists wishing to ship lethal materials and supplies. Our economy and way of life are also at risk from the organized crime aspects of fraud, counterfeiting, and narco trafficking. A true freight assessment system that continuously scans and learns from the system itself is the key to a robust supply chain.

The air commerce system needs to become streamlined and more efficient; paperless eCommerce will greatly enhance the system. Packages shipped on passenger airliners must be validated as legitimate and safe without overwhelming the system. Freight airlines do not have the ability to pick up this business. As with the GWOT, commerce is founded on the concept of effective networks and partnerships, the United States has the ability to make these the most effective ever devised.