June 21, 2010

Airlines warn of new rules, fees for unscreened freight

Shippers told to prepare for earlier cutoff times, higher fees for unscreened freight tendered after Aug. 1.

By Mark B. Solomon

Shippers using the nation's air network after Aug. 1, the deadline for screening all U.S. cargo moving in the bellies of passenger planes, should be prepared to tender their domestic freight much earlier than usual if they expect airlines to screen and inspect the goods prior to loading, according to industry experts.

Dave Brooks, president of American Airlines' Cargo Division, said the airline will require customers to tender their freight six hours before the aircraft's scheduled departure if they expect American to screen the goods and still meet the customers' delivery commitments. American's current cutoff time is four hours before departure, Brooks said.

In addition, American will double its fees after Aug. 1 for screening cargo before it is loaded, Brooks said.

Arthur Arway, who heads security for the Americas for DHL Global Forwarding, a unit of German giant Deutsche Post DHL and the world's biggest air-freight forwarder, said American's post-Aug.1 policy has or will become standard across the U.S. airline industry.

By law, all domestic cargo shipped in the below-deck compartments of passenger planes as of Aug. 1 must be certified as having been screened or inspected at some point in the supply chain before it can be loaded aboard the aircraft. In an effort to push the screening responsibility upstream, Congress created the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), a voluntary initiative that authorizes shippers and freight forwarders to screen and inspect cargo before it reaches the airline.

The CCSP's goal is to spread the screening burden equally across the supply chain, and to allow shippers to be in control of opening and inspecting their own goods rather than having someone do it for them, thus raising the risk of damage to high-value consignments like pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

About 500 freight forwarders are enrolled in the CCSP, making them by far the largest group participating in the program. By contrast, shipper involvement has been weak, with many shippers leaving the screening functions up to the forwarders as part of the shipper-forwarder business relationship. Forwarder executives say that while they are willing to pull their weight, putting the onus totally on the forwarders threatens to create a cascade effect that will result in shipment delays, missed flights, and much ill will throughout the supply chain.

The air-cargo supply chain is currently at 75 percent screening compliance. However, the biggest challenge will be with the remaining 25 percent, most of which will involve multiple pieces shrink-wrapped in pallets or loaded into containers destined for the nation's busiest airports.

If a consolidated shipment arrives at the airline unscreened, it will have to be disassembled and each piece individually screened or physically inspected before the load is rebuilt and loaded on the plane. The potential delays involved with such a scenario should be enough to motivate shippers—who are paying a premium for the speed of air deliveries—to screen or inspect their cargo before it leaves their hands, carrier, forwarder, and government officials contend.

Brooks of American said the airline will keep the four-hour cutoff times and waive the additional screening fees for customers who can certify that the cargo has been screened or inspected before it reaches the airport.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Senior Editor
Mark Solomon has spent 25 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. Mr. Solomon graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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