The United States is on track to meet a Dec. 3 deadline to screen and inspect all cargo moving in the lower decks of passenger planes that originate in foreign countries, a top official of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said.
Speaking Tuesday at the International Air Cargo Forum and Exposition in Atlanta, John P. Sammon, assistant administrator for the Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement, said the agency will require all U.S. and foreign airlines flying so-called belly cargo into the U.S. to comply with its screening and inspection rules by that deadline.
Sammon's comments came amid industry speculation that the agency would push back the timetable because, in the words of an industry source, some foreign airlines "are falling short" of meeting the TSA's requirements. Several of those carriers are in Asia, the source said. The source would not identify the airlines.
Originally a 2007 law had set the deadline for Aug. 1, 2010. However, meeting that deadline proved to be impossible due to the difficulty harmonizing the security regimes of the U.S. and its trading partners, and the date was pushed back to December 2012.
It is estimated that about 80 percent of all inbound belly cargo is already screened or inspected at origin as many nations like the United States have their own supply chain security programs in place. However, they had been unwilling to share data about those programs with other countries—including the United States—because of their sensitive nature. The TSA has said that unless it gained access to the details of foreign governments' screening provisions, it cannot determine if they meet U.S. requirements and cannot recognize them.
The logjam was broken earlier this year after the 27 European Union member states plus Switzerland and Canada all aligned their respective cargo security programs with the United States. EU member states alone account for about 20 percent of all air exports from the U.S.
Yet most Asian and Latin American nations have not followed that lead, meaning that goods flying from those countries to the U.S. would be screened twice—once by the originating nation and once by the TSA upon arrival in the United States.
The inbound screening rules do not apply to all-cargo operations flying heavy freight, parcels, or letters. However, they are required to comply with general government security requirements that apply to all airline operations, such how facilities and cargo are accessed, the vetting of personnel with access to cargo, employee training, and cargo screening procedures.
Rules requiring the screening and inspection of all domestic and export belly freight have been in effect since August 2010.