The air cargo supply chain's effort to screen all domestic cargo moving in the bellies of passenger planes comes to a head Aug. 1, when the industry will be required to show that each piece of cargo shipped in plane bellies is inspected before it is placed aboard an aircraft.
The last step will likely be the most difficult.
On May 1, the Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency in charge of managing the cargo security program, announced that the industry had met a key milestone by screening 75 percent of all belly cargo moving in U.S. commerce.
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. By law, cargo must be screened at the "piece level," either by the shipper, the freight forwarder, or the airline, before it is allowed in the belly of an airliner. The piece-level screening means, for example, that a container must be stripped down and each piece screened before the shipment can be "rebuilt."
Shipper, carrier, and freight forwarder executives have warned of shipment delays in the days following the Aug. 1 deadline, especially if airlines are responsible for screening a large proportion of cargo before it is boarded. Dave Brooks, who heads cargo for American Airlines, said in a May 26 webinar that carriers might not even have the airport space needed to inspect a cascade of freight in the event the bulk of the screening burden falls on their shoulders.
Brooks said American will be "dramatically increasing our fees" for cargo if it is required to screen from Aug. 1 on. He wouldn't be more specific on the extent of the increases.
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 risking damage to high-value consignments like pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Another benefit of the CCSP is that it reduces the risk of shipment delays at airports because the carrier doesn't have to delay the cargo in order to inspect it, according to participants in the May 26 webinar, which was sponsored by American.
About 500 freight forwarders are enrolled in CCSP, making them by far the largest group of program participants. By contrast, shipper involvement has been weak, though it is expected to increase as the Aug. 1 deadline approaches.
Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, said many shippers believe freight forwarders should be responsible for the cargo screening function as part of the shipper-forwarder business relationship. "Shippers have basically said that this is the forwarders' problem," he said.
Ken Konigsmark, senior manager, supply chain & aviation security compliance for the Boeing Co., said many shippers—especially manufacturers of high-value, perishable products—already have in-house screening programs in place, so there will be little additional cost in being CCSP-certified.
Konigsmark said shippers will need to examine the "opportunity costs" of not inspecting their own goods, noting that shipment delays and supply chain disruptions might ensue if someone has to do it for them.
"To the supply chain professional, time is as important as cost," he said.