The Transportation Security Administration on Thursday released a roadmap for air cargo security that emphasizes four goals, including incentivizing the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in security technologies and for the agency to provide more training support to industry for screening air cargo.
The marketplace for air cargo lacks incentives for investing in security technology and so TSA will work with technology vendors “and explore opportunities for funding to support and expand both current and future capability pipelines,” says the 26-page Air Cargo Security Roadmap. The agency says it expects to implement this goal in fiscal year 2023.
Another objective of TSA within the goal of enhancing the air cargo industry’s “technology posture” is to keep technology standards and requirements up to date with evolving security threats as well as new technologies. It also includes canine screening as part of the emerging technology capabilities.
TSA is required by law to ensure that 100 percent of all cargo carried on passenger aircraft is screened at a level equal to security for screening checked baggage. Some entities and carriers involved in transporting cargo on passenger aircraft already take advantage of canine screening through TSA’s Third-Party Canine-Cargo program, which allows for alternative to security screening technology.
However, the roadmap points out that there are limitations to canine screening, “such as the availability of certified canine teams and canine safety concerns related to screening certain items,” demonstrating the need for additional “technology solutions.”
The new roadmap is the first for TSA in the area of air cargo security and was aided by collaboration with industry.
“This is such an important document because it really highlights both for TSA and the industry where the opportunities for collaboration lie going forward,” Elaine Dezenski, a co-chair of Air Cargo subcommittee of TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) and chief growth officer for the risk and compliance advisory company Blank Slate Technologies, said on Tuesday during a public meeting of the ASAC.
In addition to helping with the Air Cargo Security Roadmap, during the past year the subcommittee has also worked with industry and TSA on improving risk assessment in the “air cargo environment” given the need for “constantly balancing” security and trade facilitation, the need for improving air cargo screening training, and assessing gaps in air cargo screening technology, she said.
Expanding information sharing between TSA and industry is another goal of the roadmap and calls for the agency to assess current requirements and training for air cargo screening, the document says. It points out that industry has led the “hiring, training, and testing of its air cargo screeners” but highlights recent recommendations from the ASAC for more support from TSA in this area “to address challenges with consistency, uniformity, and availability of threat-drive training materials and protocols.”
Advancing risk-based screening capabilities is another goal of the roadmap and is in line with Dezensksi’s comments on the tension between security and economic pressures.
A key objective of this goal is to explore opportunities for “all-cargo aircraft operators” to use risk data to help with screening cargo instead of relying on physical screening, thereby reducing costs while increasing security efficiency.
“TSA will review options that allow the all-cargo industry to propose alternate risk-based and data-drive security and screening procedures for air cargo screening operations,” the roadmap says. Implementation of this objective is planned for FY ’24.
In addition to canines, companies involved in air cargo use explosive trace detection and X-ray technologies to screen cargo for potential threats before it is loaded onto passenger aircraft.
The roadmap highlights that in the past decade there has been a rapid increase in cargo transported by aircraft due to more e-commerce and demand for goods faster, which has the industry “working at its full capacity.” COVID-19 has added pressure to the industry amid these demands, including contributing to volume through vaccine shipments, it says.