It is a curious thing that the mainstream media seems largely unaware of – or perhaps uninterested in – a major new benchmark in the air cargo security realm that is two weeks away. As of May 1, passenger airlines must screen 75 percent of all air cargo before it can be boarded.
This benchmark is meant to wake the industry up to the approaching congressionally mandated requirement that 100 percent of all air cargo transported on passenger planes be screened. Yes, that’s right, every single piece of cargo must be screened or it will be left behind.
You know what that is? That’s money being left behind. Every piece of cargo that doesn’t get put on a plane becomes an hourglass of money draining downward. In supply chain, efficiency and timeliness is everything.
And what about cargo that is perishable? Fresh produce and seafood, for example, really can’t afford to be left behind. It’s one thing for a shipment of widgets to be delayed; that costs money, but eventually it will reach its destination. Spoiled food may as well be tossed in the dumpster.
The airlines met the deadline to screen 50 percent of all air cargo transported on passenger planes last year with little trouble. So why is the new 75 percent requirement a big deal?
Under the 50 percent deadline, airlines were able to screen the low-hanging fruit; for the most part, individual packages being loaded on narrow-body aircraft. To ratchet it up to 75 percent, however, airlines will now have to start screening the large pallets of cargo – pallets filled with individual pieces of cargo, stacked carefully and wrapped. In the past, these shipments would be quickly loaded onto the plane. That’s over.
Here’s the challenge: Congress mandated not only that all cargo be screened but that it be screened at the piece level.
That means the airlines will have to break down each pallet, screen every individual piece of cargo and then re-build the pallet before it can be put on the plane. This is not an easy task, and it certainly is not a quick one.
You’re also going to see a rise on “false positives” with the increase in cargo volume. False positives are simply false alarms. These false alarms, however, must be investigated, which means a lot more cargo is going to be opened up and checked out.
Certain industries should be concerned. The pharmaceutical industry, which ships very expensive products that absolutely cannot be opened and tampered with, should be and is concerned. A shipment that is tampered with is, by FDA regulations, no good. That’s a pricey mistake.
The technology industry should be concerned. Tech companies ship highly expensive and delicate products. Do they really want third parties rummaging through their shipment and handling microchips, for example?
Give credit where credit is due: The TSA has worked hard to coordinate with the private sector to come up with a program that will meet the screening requirements mandated by Congress without creating bottlenecks and damaged goods at the airports.
It’s called the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP). CCSP allows shippers to apply to TSA and gain certification to independently screen their products at their own facilities. The advantage is that when the shipment arrives at the airport, it can skip the queue of cargo waiting to be screened by understaffed airline employees and go straight to the front of the line.
To apply, shippers simply need to contact the TSA, which will audit the shipper’s facility and operational processes to ensure that it meets certain security standards. With those standards met, the shippers are given the stamp of approval and are officially pat of the program.
There is a surprising lack of awareness in the shipping community about the new screening requirements. Among those industries that are aware, there is an even more surprising sense that TSA will not really follow through with the screening requirements. This is surprising because it is not TSA’s prerogative to enforce or not enforce the screening mandate; it’s the law, passed by Congress in 2007.
Congressional committees have held various hearings inquiring about the progress of the screening mandate. It’s not going away.
The airlines are ramping up their resources, but they can’t possibly meet that kind of volume. Not in a timely fashion. Which means that if a company shipping products hasn’t joined the CCSP program, there is a significant chance its product will be delayed.
TSA has made it clear: If the cargo isn’t screened, it doesn’t go on the plane. Period.
And the airlines have made it clear: They won’t be delaying their flight schedules to accommodate cargo that is unscreened. They have a commitment to their passengers to maintain their flight schedules.
So this upcoming 75 percent deadline will be an early test to see how the screening mandate will impact the industry. Chances are that – between those companies that are signing on to the CCSP program and the ramped up resources in which the airlines are investing – the air cargo industry will get by. They’ll get by with some bumps and frustrations, but they’ll likely get by.
What will be interesting to watch is how well they get by. Meeting the 75 percent mandate will be nothing like meeting the 100 percent mandate. With the economy bouncing back, and cargo volumes spiking, trying to screen an additional 25 percent will be a real test. And some shippers are not going to be happy about what they experience.
Which is why, of course, they should be calling TSA today to inquire about CCSP. Waiting until August will prove a costly mistake.