It's not just maritime security that has caught the new Congress's attention. The cargo security bill adopted by the House early in the new legislative session targets air cargo as well. And that has industry concerned.
In mid-January, a coalition of shippers and industry organizations led by the Air Transport Association (ATA) was formed to address the aircargo provisions of HR 1—Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007. The ATA-led coalition, whose members include the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) and the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), is expected to propose something far short of the requirements in HR 1 but that would still have enough teeth to attract Senate votes.
As with the maritime security proposal, the sticking point appears to be cargo inspection. Section 406 of the bill requires that within three years, all commercial cargo carried on passenger aircraft be inspected. But in a letter to senators, Peter Gatti, vice president of NITL, argued that non-intrusive technology for such inspections does not exist and that physical inspection of all cargo was not feasible.
"A significant amount of air freight is delicate, time sensitive and of high value," Gatti wrote in his letter. "Technology, human organs, pharmaceutical, food, and horticultural products are frequently shipped using air transportation, and such products require minimal handling. Physical inspections of these cargoes, unlike baggage, are more likely to result in contamination and damage." He added that the common practice of palletizing and shrink wrapping air cargo makes physical inspection even more problematic.
Along with concerns about damage, carriers say they're worried about the prospect of shipping delays resulting from inspections. In an "Issue Brief" on its Web site (www.airlines.org), the ATA charges that a policy mandating the physical inspection of every piece of air cargo carried on passenger airlines "would undermine the viability of passenger air service, dramatically increase costs for air cargo shippers, and jeopardize cargo services to many small communities. The just-in-time inventory strategy that is indispensable to U.S. industries would be thrown into disarray."
In letters to the leaders of both the Senate and House committees considering the legislation, the aircargo coalition offered an alternative plan. It urged adoption of "risk-based screening" of cargo that "should incorporate elements of threat assessment and targeting, incentives for shippers to strengthen supply chain security practices, and increased inspections for elevated-risk cargo." It also encouraged the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to establish a voluntary "certified shipper" program that would require compliance with TSAdeveloped security criteria.