If you ship valuable merchandise via air cargo — and, really, what merchandise you pay to ship isn’t valuable? — then you need to know about the Transportation Security Administration’s cargo security program known as the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP). Shippers who don’t know about CCSP could end up losing millions. And there’s a lot of shippers who don’t.

The deadlines set by Congress mandating the screening of 100 percent of all air cargo shipped via passenger planes are rapidly falling into place. In February, the requirement that 50 percent of all cargo be screened came and went with little fanfare. Because the 50 percent requirement could be met by the airlines primarily through screening the low-hanging fruit of small packages, a false sense of serenity settled in among some shippers and even forwarders. The thinking runs like this: The airlines met the 50 percent deadline without too much difficulty, so how much harder could it be to hit the 100 percent deadline?

Ed Kelly, TSA’s General Manager of Air Cargo, has a concise answer: A lot.

Kelly notes that one of the primary differences between the current environment and that which descends on August 3, 2010 (when the 100 percent deadlines hits full force) is that the stacked and shrink-wrapped shipments known as ULDs — basically numerous smaller packages stacked and wrapped on pallets for shipments — will have to be broken down so that the packages can be screened individually and then restacked.

“This will present a challenge,” said the TSA cargo chief, with a nearly British level of understatement. He was speaking to a roomful of pharmaceutical manufacturers this morning as the keynote speaker during a supply chain conference in Philadelphia focused on the shipment of extremely valuable, climate-sensitive cargo such as pharmaceuticals.

Kelly also noted that cargo volume has been down significantly, causing less strain on screening resources at airports; as the economy rebounds, cargo volume will rise proportionately. Additionally, certain cargo that was previously exempt (medicines, technology products, film, certain agriculture, etc.) must, as of September 1 of this year, undergo full screening requirements, too.

In short, TSA’s message is this: There’s going to be a lot more cargo to screen when August 2010 comes, with no more resources than are now available to do it. Kelly suggested the airlines and freight fowarders are pretty much tapped out screening the volume of cargo they face now.

Finally, Kelly touched upon a point that was addressed by numerous speakers and panelists at this “cold chain” conference — what do you do with extremely valuable and equally extremely sensitive cargo that requires climate controls? That is, what do you do with “cold chain” products, such as life-saving drugs, that require exquisitely controlled temperature settings during the course of shipment to prevent the medicines from being ruined? If every piece of cargo must be screened individually, what happens to those products packaged and shipped in climate-controlled containers? Worse, what happens if one of them sets of an alarm — even if it’s only a false alarm?

That product will likely need to be opened up and inspected, said Kelly.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the drug manufacturers: If you open that container and expose those precious medicines to heat or some other climate corruption, you may as well throw them away.

This isn’t just millions of dollars you’re throwing away, in the form of expensive product; it’s life-saving medicine.

So the question kept popping up — sometimes asked aloud, sometimes just seen in the expressions of open-mouthed and incredulous faces: What do we do with multimillion-dollar shipments of highly sensitive medicines that absolutely must be delivered on time and without being opened and exposed to corruption?

Kelly seemed to be reading the minds in his audience: “I know what you need to do,” he said. “You need to screen your cargo yourself through CCSP.” He paused. “But you’re going to have to come to that conclusion on your own.”

Brad Elrod, the manager of Pfizer’s global supply chain, has indeed come to that conclusion for his company, one of the world’s leading drug producers. Elrod was one of the panelists sitting with Ed Kelly, and when his turn came to speak, he was able to be more direct. In effect, he said: Just do it.

If you’re shipping product like this, you need to join CCSP, Elrod told the audience of some 400-plus representatives from the pharmaceutical and transport industries. It’s the only sure way to control the integrity of your product, he said.

So what does CCSP offer? Any entity in the supply chain — from the shipper to the forwarder to third-party screeners — can apply with the TSA to get certified in the program. Once a facility is certified, the cargo leaving that facility can be screened on-site and delivered to the airlines without further screening.

Pre-screened cargo goes to the front of the line. No waiting, no x-ray machines, no opening of the shipment. No handling of the product inside. No corruption.

Some shippers may not feel the need to participate in the program. Perhaps they can ask their forwarders to become certified and work through them. (Though corruptible products such as pharmaceuticals face the same problem whether it’s the airlines or the forwarders doing the screening: If there’s a false alarm, there’s a chance that shipment will have to be opened.) Or maybe, if they are not concerned about potential delays or the likelihood of their shipments being opened, these shippers can skip the CCSP altogether and deliver their products to the airlines unscreened. The airlines are beefing up their screening capabilities to meet the expected spike in screening volume.

For any shipper that does have concerns about delays or third parties rummaging through their shipments, Brad Elrod’s assessment seems accurate. Seems like a no-brainer. Better contact TSA and get certified to participate in CCSP. This program is your white horse.

And you should probably do it soon. Time’s running out.

Cross posted on

Chris Battle founded Security Debrief as a forum for the homeland security community to discuss pressing issues and current debates in national security, counter-terrorism and law enforcement. After a long fight against kidney cancer, Chris passed in August 2013. Read More
  • That's the great article! I just pass 'n read it, two thumbs up! ;)

  • Nisar Yousafi

    i want this CCSP training, can you please advice where to contact or register, as i am an airlines cargo experienced, also security company experienced and presently working with freight forwarding business in uae
    so i believe if can have this training, will be very good for me in USA