Aviation Media Logo

CARGO Last modified on January 13, 2011

Spotlight on cargo

Does the aviation industry need to come up with a new plan for screening cargo in the wake of the foiled cargo bomb plot? Joe Bates reports.


ACI is urging the world’s governments not to overreact and impose a raft of new security measures and screening equipment on air cargo in the wake of the latest foiled
terrorist bomb plot.

As governments consider what action to take in response to the attempt to detonate two homemade bombs concealed as freight, ACI insists that technology alone cannot provide the solution. 

And it has announced its support for a risk-based approach to cargo security that involves establishing a new framework of standards for all parties involved in the global supply chain and is not over reliant on new technology.

ACI director general, Angela Gittens, explains: “We realise, of course, that at times immediate action has to be taken to thwart a real or credible threat. But, for the industry to be sustainable and to ensure that it is capable of thwarting the evolution of a threat, there needs to be a global risk based approach to cargo security where governments and industry work to find solutions. 

“This action also needs to be continuous as what we don’t want or need is a patchwork of different systems that end up exposing us to new vulnerabilities.

“The approach of waiting for something to get to an airport and having the airport as the first or last line of defence when it comes to cargo security is not a good idea.
“The whole point of a multi-layered strategy is that it doesn’t depend on just one layer and, if that element fails, all is lost. This was actually demonstrated by the discovery of the two parcel bombs on the aircraft following a tip off from the intelligence services, which as any security expert will tell you, form a vital part of the security chain.”

ACI is adamant that a risk based approach to the global supply chain based on intelligence, is the way forward as it is currently impractical to 100% screen all cargo shipments.

The approach involves establishing the integrity of consignments throughout the supply chain, based on the global adoption of new standards and procedures endorsed by ICAO.

Airports are, of course, just one part in the supply chain. “I think you have to remember that the vast majority of air cargo is shipped by very reputable companies that have established the integrity of shipments at source, so there is no need to treat these consignments in the same way as those presented by unknown shippers with no business relationship with a freight forwarder,” explains ACI’s security and facilitation director, Craig Bradbrook.

“The risk based approach favoured by ACI and other industry bodies would naturally place much higher levels of scrutiny on the latter kind of shipments.”

ACI chairman, Max Moore-Wilton, even goes as far as to claim that a risk based approach to cargo security is “fundamental to the future of commercial aviation as it really is the only common sense based approach”. 

He says: “The reality is that there is no global technically based system in place at the moment capable of screening all aviation cargo. That is a fact, and I think that what the TSA in the US, IATA and ourselves are saying is that yes, there has to be an increased emphasis on cargo security, and yes, we have to make the supply chain more disciplined and more capable of being tested throughout the chain, but this is going to take time. 

“I think you also need to take into account that whilst screening passengers at airports is a huge task, the global screening of air cargo is much larger as it affects the whole flow of international commerce and involves very complex inter-relationships. 

“When a passenger leaves an aircraft they may well be returning to their place of origin, whereas a piece of cargo is only starting its journey as it is about to enter a much more complex logistics chain.

“You cannot treat highly complex cargo flows in the same way as you treat people. In many cases cargo shipments are made up of several diverse components and in other instances you are dealing with dense packaging, so to have a one size fits all approach would be quite impossible for cargo.

“What we want to avoid is an over-reaction and treating cargo in the same way as we treat passengers because the cost would be enormous and probably not sustainable.”
In terms of ongoing initiatives to tighten cargo security, ICAO’s panels of aviation security and facilitation experts have come together to form a joint Secretariat study group on supply chain security.

And the latest amendment to ICAO Annex 17, which deals with security and specifically safeguarding aviation against unlawful interference, endorses the concept of the secure supply chain. 

“Ongoing work currently focuses on the protocols that need to be agreed and put in place to facilitate a reciprocal recognition agreement for entities in the supply chain for it to work effectively,” reveals ACI’s Bradbrook.

“What we need is for the experts of the world to get together to make the logistics of the supply chain safe.” 

In the meantime, ICAO has has adopted more stringent air cargo security standards, as part of its ongoing efforts to enhance the overall security of air transport operations worldwide. 

The new measures emphasise more extensive screening of cargo, mail and other goods prior to placing them on board aircraft, and better protection from unauthorised interference from the point where security controls are applied until departure of the aircraft. 

Also included is the strengthening of provisions related to the deployment of security equipment, the security of air traffic service providers, training programmes and instructor certification systems, and cyber threats. 

The updated security requirements are contained in the 12th revision of Annex 17 (Security) to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

“This latest revision to the Security Annex has been in development for some time and reflects our determination to constantly review and adapt ICAO security standards to address a rapidly evolving security situation,” says ICAO president, Roberto Kobeh González.

“It also complements a number of recent initiatives to significantly increase the level of aviation security, in a proactive and concerted manner.”

The recent 37th Session of the ICAO Assembly unanimously adopted a Declaration, that identified a number of areas where States committed to working together, in cooperation with the industry, on security issues.

These include air cargo security, screening technologies to detect prohibited articles, strengthening international standards, improving security information-sharing and providing capacity-building assistance to States in need. 

Is it physically possible to 100% screen all cargo carried on commercial aircraft today?

Moore-Wilton says: “Well, the jury is still out on that one, but the question really is, is there any need to screen all cargo? I would suspect that the chances of a terrorist threat being hidden in cargo on a flight from Bermuda, for example, is miniscule based on a risk based approach and intelligence. So, to simply regulate that every piece of cargo that moves in the air transportation chain must be treated in exactly the same way I think is massive overkill.”

Gittens admits that although the travelling public would no doubt find it reassuring to believe that airlines routinely screened air cargo, investing in new technologies and resources to perform this massive task “would not be in the public interest”.

She also fears that devoting so much time to the unnecessary screening of the vast majority of cargo shipments would take resources away from areas where they are needed.

The final word on the hot topic of the day goes to Max Moore-Wilton. “While machines are an essential component of the solution to the problem, thinking that they will be the panacea and take away the need for fundamental risk based analysis of where threats are, I think is very dangerous. 

“We need to balance the development of new machines to make sure that they are effective, but view them as part of the solution to the problem and not the solution.”
Details continue to emerge about the foiled attempt to send two parcel bombs from Yemen to the US concealed in consignments of air cargo. 

One bomb travelled on two passenger planes before being seized in Dubai. The other almost slipped through Britain, and UK authorities have been criticised for their initial failure to find the bomb on a plane at East Midlands Airport. 

According to the UK government, the crucial tip-off that led to the discovery of parcel bombs on two cargo planes came from a repentant al-Qaeda member.

Forensic examination of the explosive device taken off the plane in the UK reveal that it was disguised as a printer toner cartridge and would have detonated in flight over the United States.  

Because the explosive was odourless and colourless and looked much like toner ink, and the electronics were similar to those in a normal printer cartridge, it would have been hard to detect by conventional cargo security screening.

Airport World 2010 - Issue 6

Share on social media

Article Options

Related items

Get the Airport World Newsletter!

Follow us on Twitter

8841 peoples are following airportworldmag