Many of us are likely to long remember the name of Charles McKinley — for all the wrong reasons. Logistics professionals and the air cargo industry will long be paying the price for his stupidity.
You’ll recall that McKinley is the guy who climbed into a crate in New York and shipped himself to Dallas — where he was promptly arrested, but not before he successfully passed through several cargo security checkpoints along the way. His ability to breach security called into question the efficacy of the Transportation Security Agency and a host of other federal agencies. The Air Line Pilots Association was quick to call for tighter security, claiming this was a clear demonstration of the fears it had been expressing — cargo was not secure.
Legislation to require 100% screening on all air cargo was being hotly debated before the incident. Arguments that the industry can self-regulate itself on cargo security using rules and guidelines already in place are likely to fall on deaf ears now.
Lost in all the fear mongering, though, is the fact that the companies involved responded correctly. The media have taken the statement that each player was following existing rules as a weakness. But here’s the critical point. The company that originated the shipment was not a “known shipper.” Pilot Air Freight identified this fact and routed the freight on a cargo-only aircraft. If you’re a legitimate company but an infrequent air cargo shipper, your freight is likely handled the same way. The process is largely transparent to the shipper or consignee.
We can’t plan for every contingency and plug every hole without immobilizing commerce. It is clear we will see stricter rules on inspection of air cargo and the attendant costs and delays that will entail. We’re also likely to see a push to fast-track requirements for background checks and biometric identification of persons involved in shipping by air.
What will all of this mean to initiatives like C-TPAT — the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism — which depends on the private sector to identify and address its own risks? And what about the newly issued pre-notification requirements for imports and exports?
The repercussions of one stupid act have already started by calling into question the industry’s ability to manage security. As this issue gathers momentum, it could sweep away some more of the progress the logistics profession had made improving efficiency and reducing costs over the last decade. We’ve already seen shippers putting days back into their logistics lead time planning and we’ve seen carriers add security surcharges.
We haven’t answered the question of how we’ll pay for security initiatives already underway. This one incident could lead to even higher costs for inspection and enforcement, as well as the added days in transit and associated inventory carrying costs.
We need to act quickly to ensure we don’t build a bureaucratic monument to one man’s stupidity.
Perry A. Trunick