In an effort to minimize potential supply chain disruptions as an Aug. 1 deadline nears to screen all cargo moving in the bellies of passenger planes, a leading technology company has introduced an offering that allows airlines to be notified of the cargo's screening status before it reaches the airport.
The function is built into the electronic booking suites offered by Descartes Systems Group, a Canada-based supply chain software and solutions provider. Using a special handling code approved by the International Air Transport Association, the leading global airline group, freight forwarders handling goods on behalf of shippers can check a box informing the carrier that the goods headed its way have already been screened.
If the box goes unchecked, it will be assumed the cargo has not been screened. The forwarder will then receive a message from the carrier about any changes in flight cutoff times that might result because the airline has to take on the responsibility for inspecting the shipment.
Effective Sunday, Aug. 1, all goods scheduled for loading in passenger bellies at U.S. airports must be certified that they have been screened or inspected before boarding. Shippers, forwarders, airlines, and third-party screening facilities can handle the screening as long as they are enrolled in a federal government program authorizing them to perform the work.
However, cargo interests worry that many shipments consolidated on pallets or containers will arrive at airports unscreened, forcing the airlines to break down the consolidations, examine each shipment, rebuild the load, and place it aboard the plane. The time-consuming process could cause flight delays for high-value, time-sensitive cargoes and compromise the speed and reliability that the air-freight model is built on.
It is expected that airlines, which normally request that cargo be delivered to the airport four hours before scheduled departure, will tack on another two hours to allow time for the cargo to be screened.
Julie Calcunovitch, vice president, air product management for Descartes, said the tool will facilitate an orderly acceptance process by giving the carrier pre-arrival visibility of screened freight. The tool is available to Descartes' customers, which are freight forwarders and airlines. It is not available to shippers, she said.
In addition, while the tool informs carriers that cargo en route to them has already been screened, it does not yet have the ability to seamlessly transmit a supporting certificate that actually proves the goods have been screened in compliance with U.S. government requirements.
Descartes has developed technology called an "e-pouch" where such certificates can be transmitted from forwarder to carrier ahead of the scheduled flight. However, in the absence of a universal message format that could be transmitted directly into the carrier's system, supporting documentation would need to be scanned, e-mailed, or physically presented to the carrier at the time of tender at the airport, Calcunovitch said.
Calcunovitch said the tool now in place represents a first step, and Descartes plans to add functionality as the process becomes more established.