Air-freight forwarders have reported only minor problems in the first 75 days of complying with the federal government's Aug. 1 mandate to screen or physically inspect all cargo loaded in the bellies of passenger planes at U.S. airports, according to a mid-October survey conducted by the Airforwarders Association (AFA).
The respondents, 50 forwarders ranging in size from small mom-and-pop businesses to large multinational corporations, also said they would strongly oppose any move by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which oversees the security program but currently performs no screening, to begin screening initiatives of its own.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who after the 9/11 attacks led the drive for laws requiring the screening of belly hold cargo, has introduced legislation requiring TSA to establish its own screening facilities on airport grounds. Markey has said the government program would effectively augment the private sector's efforts. However, more than three-fourths of all survey respondents said there would be no need for, or value in, such a program.
The survey is the first conducted by the AFA since the first week following the Aug. 1 mandate.
On another front, only 10 percent of respondents said their shipper customers remain "very worried" about the rules' impact on their business. Nearly 60 percent said their customers either had "no concern" or were not "overly worried" about it.
About 47 percent said their customers showed "no adverse reaction" to the imposition of higher screening fees. About the same percentage reported that shippers had accepted the increases but were not happy about them.
More than 65 percent of the respondents said shippers were not shifting to other forms of transportation as a result of the program. More than 44 percent said they were relying on the airlines to screen the freight once it arrived at the airport; nearly 32 percent said they were using their own Certified Cargo Screening Facilities to screen or inspect freight before it was tendered to the airlines for loading.
The facilities were created as part of the TSA's Certified Cargo Screening Program, which is designed to encourage the screening of cargo upstream in the supply chain to avoid an avalanche of unscreened goods descending on the airlines. By law, the airlines would be mandated to examine any unscreened cargo in their possession prior to loading.
The respondents seemed to reserve their most emotional responses for the issue of federal government involvement in cargo screening. The prevailing view of forwarders surveyed was that it would be costly and unnecessary for the TSA to become actively involved in the screening and inspection of air cargo.
One respondent commented that the agency has "no incentive to screen [cargo] promptly or accurately, and that "government workers tend to be the least apt to perform well under pressure." Another said a TSA-run program "would be a Ã¢ï¿½Â¦ waste of funds, given the current screening options are working."
Perhaps the most benign response came from one forwarder that said it would not be opposed to a government program to supplement private-sector efforts, but that it would not be a "requisite part" of making the program a success.