Atlas Freight Systems, a freight forwarder that consolidates and ships products for the oil and gas industry, has been designated a Certified Cargo Screening Facility (CCSF) by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as part of the agency’s plan to eventually screen all cargo bound for passenger planes in the U.S. for explosives.

The Houston-based company is currently certified to manually inspect the equipment it forwards to air and ocean carriers but would like to be able to use some of the explosives detection systems supplied by ICx Technologies [ICXT] to speed its screening processes, Brian Neuenfeldt, executive vice president for Business Development at Atlas Freight, tells TR2.

Explosives screening systems currently approved by TSA to meet the air cargo mandate don’t match up against things like four-foot diameter ball valves, steel piping and other equipment used in the oil and gas industry, Neuenfeldt says.

Some of the oil and gas industry products lend themselves to a quick visual inspection but if boxes have to be opened to do this then it becomes too time consuming, Neuenfeldt says. The problem with the X-Ray machines and Explosives Detection Systems used in airports is they can be too slow and have too many false alarms, which means “we’d have to buy more of the equipment and that gets pricey,” he says.

Atlas Freight also looked at the Smiths Detection Saber and General Electric [GE] Itemiser explosives trace detectors but found that these take too long to reset after a positive test, Neuenfeldt says. One of the screeners also tested positive for ANFO, Ammonium Nitrate/fuel oil, which is common with oil and gas equipment, he says.

Fido and ParcelPoint

Now Atlas Freight has partnered with ICx to test the company’s Fido XT trace detector and its ParcelPoint parcel screener. The handheld Fido system is used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan to screen for improvised explosive devices. For Atlas Freight the Fido is being used in particle mode, which means samples are collected from the surface using a swipe and then quickly analyzed by the screening system.

The ParcelPoint system is being developed through funding by the Defense Department and is in the advanced prototype stage. ParcelPoint has an aperture that is less than two- feet by two-feet. The system is three feet long and takes about two minutes to analyze a parcel. However, once the system is in operation and parcels and packages are moving through, it reports the results of each item at 30 second intervals.

ParcelPoint uses a robotic swipe method for collecting trace samples to analyze for explosives and also does vapor analysis for volatile chemical compounds, mass spectrometry for radiation detection, two-dimensional X-Ray, air blow to disturb particulates for biological sampling, and takes camera images of the parcels.

Neuenfeldt says that the ICx technologies support high volume screening and have low false positive test rates. “ICx lends itself to logistics applications better than other technologies on TSA’s list,” he says.

Atlas Freight is asking TSA if it can become part of the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), which is a pilot program that the agency is using with a number of air forwarders to see how well certain screening technologies work for different commodities and in different environments. As part of the CCSP effort Atlas Freight might be in a better position to be able to test the ICx products for TSA and also allow the company to advise the agency on logistics, Neuenfeldt says.

Atlas Freight’s customers have “time definite delivery requirements,” which means they have to have their products on the next airplane going to Pakistan, Afghanistan or another country, Neuenfeldt says. Shipping by passenger aircraft is a “timely and reliable” method, he says. As a certified screener Atlas Freight can make sure their products go to the front of the line to be loaded onto an aircraft, he says.

As a CCSF, Atlas Freight also sees an opportunity for its own revenue enhancement by becoming a third party screener for air forwarders who can’t afford the screening equipment or lack the physical infrastructure to support hosting the equipment, Neuenfeldt says. It comes down to being able to cross dock from unscreened to screened cargo and that requires a certain physical footprint, he says. Other requirements for CCSFs include perimeter security, access controls for the designated screening area, and more, he says.

There are 600 freight forwarders in the Houston area although it’s hard to know how many do air forwarding, Neuenfeldt says. But this high number means there are probably ample opportunities as a third party screener, he says.

Under congressional mandates for air cargo screening, air carriers were required to be screening 50 percent of all cargo they carry beginning this week. By Aug. 2010, 100 percent of the cargo being loaded on passenger aircraft in the U.S. is supposed to be screened for explosives.

Atlas Freight has about $20 million in annual sales.