Air cargo security is about to get tighter

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has stepped up its efforts to strengthen air cargo security by announcing requirements designed to protect the more than 50,000 tons of cargo that is transported aboard passenger and all-cargo aircraft each day. The security requirements mark the first substantial changes to air cargo regulations since 1999, and represent a joint government-industry vision of an enhanced security baseline.

“Working with the industry we have set a solid foundation for a major segment of the transportation network,” says Kip Hawley, assistant secretary to the TSA. “In addition, TSA is working with our partners on a series of separate operational measures that raise security in air cargo.”

The Air Cargo Final Rule makes permanent some practices already in place and adds others. Major new security measures include:

* Consolidating approximately 4,000 private industry Known Shipper lists into one central database managed by TSA. This will allow TSA to have more visibility into the activities of companies shipping on passenger aircraft and permit more in-depth vetting of known shippers.

* Requiring background checks of approximately 51,000 off-airport freight forwarder employees.

* Extending secure areas of airports to include ramps and cargo facilities. This will require an additional 50,000 cargo aircraft operator employees to receive full criminal history background checks.

These new measures will be enforced by an expanded force of air cargo inspectors. In the coming weeks, TSA will complete the hiring of 300 air cargo inspectors. These inspectors are stationed at 102 airports where 95 percent of domestic air cargo originates.

The policy changes implemented by the final rule complement ongoing TSA operational and technological initiatives that aim to strengthen air cargo security through a risk-based approach that balances the twin goals of enhancing security without unduly disrupting the flow of commerce. Operational measures recently implemented include:

* Surge initiatives that incorporate an element of unpredictability into the daily inspection activity of approximately 1,000 aviation security inspectors at airports across the country.

* Using transportation security officers and TSA equipment to screen cargo that is delivered directly to airport ticket counters.

* Expanded use of canine explosives detection teams in air cargo facilities.

The details of how to implement the new regulatory changes are spelled out in the security programs that air carriers and freight consolidators must maintain. Draft security programs will be provided to the carriers and consolidators for comment concurrent with release of the Final Rule. Enhancements are expected to be phased in during the next six months.

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