The air-freight industry is lobbying the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allow companies to hire and train bomb-sniffing dogs to help screen cargo moving in the bellies of passenger planes, according to a well-placed industry source.
The source said TSA is "very receptive" to the idea and has said it would like to beta-test the dogs sometime this fall. The focus, according to the source, is to build a certification program within TSA that will allow private industry to certify K-9s to conduct so-called primary screening of cargo.
Currently, private K-9s are used as secondary screening vehicles and are deployed, if necessary, once the cargo has undergone an initial inspection via TSA-approved equipment such as an Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) machine.
Effective Aug. 1, all cargo scheduled to be flown in the bellies of passenger aircraft from U.S. airports must be screened or physically inspected prior to boarding.
The use of private K-9s had been high on the agenda of the late Ed Kelly, who had run TSA's cargo division until his death in December 2009. Under Kelly, there were plans to test K-9s as primary screening tools. However, the initiative was tabled following his death, the source said.
Of the 700 TSA-approved canine teams nationwide, 120 are dedicated solely to cargo screening, according to agency figures. The dedicated cargo dogs are deployed at the 20 busiest cargo airports in the United States, according to the agency.
James Fotenos, a TSA spokesman, did not respond to an e-mail asking if there had been discussions either within TSA or with industry to let companies use K-9s on their private "payroll" as screening tools.