The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now requiring that 75 percent of cargo being carried on passenger planes departing from U.S. airports be screened for explosives beginning May 1, another interim step on the way to achieving the Aug. 1 mandate for 100 percent screening of air cargo.

Last February an initial 50 percent screening mandate was met.

It’s no surprise that TSA established this new 75 percent interim goal, Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, tells TR2. The agency has told the air carriers and the Certified Cargo Screening Facilities (CCSF) to increase their screening levels, he says.

A CCSF is any facility, such as a freight forwarder’s or manufacturers’, that has been approved by TSA to screen cargo for explosives. Screening can be done with approved technology, physical inspection or bomb sniffing dogs.

Ultimately it is the responsibility of the air carriers to ensure that the cargo they load onto their planes has been screened for explosives. The airlines, which had been screening s small percentage of cargo prior to the congressional mandate of 100 percent, have ramped up their efforts in order to help TSA meet the screening goal and to offer their customers a service.

The carriers typically have TSA-approved technology such as explosive trace detection (ETD) equipment and or X-Ray systems to screen a portion of the load.

However, TSA realized that relying on the airlines to do all of the screening could create logjams of cargo, causing it to miss a flight because the airlines would not be able to screen all of it on time. To prevent this from happening, the agency in 2008 created the Certified Cargo Screening Program to push cargo screening back up the supply chain.

But progress has been slow. So far only about 600 CCSFs have been established, far fewer than the thousand or more that TSA had expected by early this year (TR2, Jan. 6). Morgan Keegan defense and security analyst Brian Ruttenbur, citing the TSA, says the agency estimates that about 63 percent of cargo can be screened at the current run rate of certified facilities.

Most of the CCSFs are forwarders, typically indirect air carriers, with the rest shippers, which are manufacturers, and Independent Cargo Screening Facilities, which are third parties offering screening services to shippers and smaller forwarders. TSA would like more manufacturers to apply to become CCSFs, saying that it is relatively inexpensive and easy for the vast majority of them to get certified to screen their products before shipping.

Fence Sitting

Fried says that about 64 percent of the members of the Airforwarders Association have adopted a “wait and see attitude” toward whether to become CCSFs or not. He says these forwarders are waiting on the airlines to see how they treat cargo that hasn’t been screened and what the costs will be.

For now, anyway, the congressionally-mandated cargo screening initiative will fall on the airlines, forwarders and select shippers, Fried says.

Lufthansa Cargo, part of Germany’s Lufthansa Group, says it is screening most of its cargo.

“We don’t expect too much of that to change in the next couple of months, especially when you look at the May 1 interim mandate,” James Lobello, head of security for Lufthansa Cargo in the Americas, tells TR2. “I think what we saw, due to the economic crisis for the industry in 2009, many of those who may have went down the CCSP road halted their plans so I think there are a number who are a bit behind or are still assessing the impact and the need for CCSP.”

Moving forward, Lobello says that Lufthansa Cargo expects to continue having to screen the majority of cargo even as the number of CCSFs increases although the amounts will vary by station. The company has been running simulations to better understand what will be required to achieve 100 percent scanning and wants to be doing it prior to Aug. 1, he says.

At a forwarder’s facility, pieces of cargo are often consolidated on pallets or containers called a unit load device, prior to being delivered to the air carrier. By having IACs do the screening of cargo before they consolidate it, an air carrier doesn’t have to spend time breaking down the pallet, screen the individual cargo pieces, and then rebuild it.

Lobello says that Lufthansa Cargo doesn’t often have to break down a consolidation and then rebuild it. Hopefully by Aug. 1 this will occur even fewer times, he says. He also says that Lufthansa Cargo is working with forwarders to be able to offer them various solutions.

The company has also established its own ICSFs, including one at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York where it is teamed with Covenant Aviation and Smiths Detection. Lufthansa is trying to keep it “business as usual” for its customers although the company itself is undertaking various process changes and enhancements, Lobello says. The goal is to keep the latest acceptance time for cargo intact, he says.

Lufthansa currently uses ETD machines and HI-SCAN 180180-2is Advanced Technology (AT) X-Ray machines purchases from Smiths Detection at its stations. The company has five of the AT machines at its largest stations in the U.S., which are capable of screening a small unit load device called an LD-3. However, the X-Ray system currently isn’t approved to screen an LD-3 in the U.S., just piece level cargo. In Europe, Lufthansa Cargo is able to use the machines to screen an entire LD-3.

The company acquired the 180180-2is systems to maintain uniformity with its globally deployed technology but also to be able to screen the LD-3’s in the U.S. whenever the TSA certifies that those X-Ray systems can be used to their full potential.

American Airlines‘ [AMR] Cargo division doesn’t know the exact percentages of cargo it is screening, saying that it depends on the location. At some stations most of the cargo has already been screened before being tendered to the carrier and at others “we still have to do an awful lot of screening,” David Brooks, president of the cargo unit, tells TR2.

Brooks says his company is working with its customers who are not CCSFs and who frequently tender their cargo right at the cutoff time to make sure they know what they need to do to become certified under CCSP.

More of American Airlines Cargo’s customers are taking steps to either to screen their own cargo or present it so that it is easier for the carrier to screen, Brooks says. He would still like to see more shippers get involved in CCSP, which he says will ultimately be less costly for them.

As for forwarders, American Airlines Cargo does a lot of business with smaller forwarders, some of which “aren’t as engaged as they should be” with CCSP, Brooks says. It’s still unclear exactly how things will unfold between now and Aug. 1 and how much cargo may miss a flight because too much is left for a carrier to screen, he says.

There is time for the supply chain participants to adapt to the emerging market conditions and avoid “a backlog or a meltdown,” Brooks says. “The market is adapting in ways that are not always visible to us.”

Brooks says his company is “stepping up” own efforts in cities where there is not a lot of pre-screened freight coming in. The company typically operates ETD machines and in some cases conventional X-Ray systems to screen cargo for its customers. At large gateway stations the carrier will have one and sometimes two ETD machines and a X-Ray device.

Between now and Aug. 1 American Airlines Cargo plans to add more technology to its larger facilities, in particular systems that can screen certain commodities on a typical 44- inch by 44-inch wooden pallet, Brooks says. The company is currently reviewing proposals and plans to purchase between 10 and 15 pieces of screening technology, some of it the systems that can screen certain commodities on the pallets, he says.