August 18, 2010

First week of new air security regime passes with few hitches

Survey of airfreight forwarders shows majority experienced no service disruptions or only minor snags.

By Mark B. Solomon

So far, so good.

That was the consensus of airfreight forwarders polled one week after an Aug. 1 mandate took effect requiring the screening or physical inspection of all air cargo shipped in the bellies of passenger planes flying from U.S. airports.

A survey conducted by the Airforwarders Association, whose freight forwarder members operate, in aggregate, 709 facilities or stations across the United States, found that two-thirds reported no service disruptions in the week following the mandate's Aug. 1 effective date. About 28 percent reported scattered disruptions but chalked it up to "glitches" relating to start-up, the group said. The remaining 5 percent said they encountered "serious issues," according to the survey.

Many of the forwarders who reported no problems said the mounting compliance worries leading up to Aug. 1 reminded them of the Y2K scare, which arose over concerns about the impact the transition to the year 2000 would have on the world's information technology networks. Fears over Y2K led companies to invest millions of dollars to upgrade their technologies prior to Jan. 1, 2000—a date that came and went with scarcely a service hitch.

Brandon Fried, the Airforwarders Association's executive director, cautioned that the first week of August is usually a slow period for aircargo activity and that the industry will get a better read on the situation once it gets past the summer doldrums and heads into the fall peak season.

When asked about their outlook for fall, 55 percent of the survey respondents said the heightened security would cause little, if any, disruption, during the fall peak and beyond. About 39 percent said they were a "bit worried" but cautiously optimistic, according to the survey. Six percent said they had "serious reservations" about the industry's ability to scale up to significantly higher volumes without the tougher security rules' having an adverse impact on operations.

Of the 709 stations or facilities operated by the respondents, 88 were classified by the Transportation Security Administration as Certified Cargo Screening Facilities. The designation means those facilities are approved by the federal government to either screen or inspect cargo.

Fried said his members seem optimistic that the industry can overcome operational challenges especially as security processes improve and more screening facilities come on line.

By law, all belly cargo being shipped within the United States or in U.S. export commerce must be screened or inspected by a certified supply chain participant that accepts "chain of custody" responsibility for the shipment. That could be a shipper, an intermediary, an airline, or one of the third-party screening facilities known in industry lingo as "car washes."

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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