Secruity News

Cargo security in the spotlight after explosive discovery

13th Dec 2010


Aviation security is once again in the spotlight, following the discovery in late October of two explosive devices in airfreight shipments originating in Yemen.

Airlines are now urging government agencies and regulators to work with the aviation industry to ensure any new security measures are effective in securing the supply chain, while steering clear of knee-jerk reactions. The explosive devices, found in a UPS freighter at East Midlands International Airport in the UK and a FedEx facility in Dubai, are believed to have been intended to detonate in flight.

“The events in Yemen have put cargo security at the top of our agenda,” says Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Bisignani highlighted the economic importance of air freight at IATA’s AVSEC security conference in Frankfurt in November.

“Airfreight drives the world economy. The products that we carry represent 35 percent of the total value of goods traded internationally,” he said. In 2009, airlines carried 26 million tonnes of international cargo, with this expected to increase to 38 million tonnes by 2014. “Transporting these goods safely, securely and efficiently is critical,” Bisignani said.

IATA believes four principles should drive air-cargo security programmes – a supply-chain approach, technology, e-freight and risk. Bisignani said the whole supply chain – from manufacturer to airport – has responsibility for security of shipments.

“The supply-chain approach must be driven by government and industry co-operation on investment, processes, technology and risk assessment. Many countries, including the UK and US, have advanced supply-chain solutions,” he said.

IATA’s Secure Freight programme, which is aimed at simplifying cargo supply chain security at the same time as meeting government requirements, is part of the industry’s efforts to address the supply chain. According to the airline association, the programme envisions an air cargo industry comprising certified, secure operators, in secure supply chains, operating to international cargo security standards recognised by relevant state authorities.

Technology such as airport screening should not be the first line of defence, but is an effective complement to intelligence and supply-chain solutions, IATA believes.

“Currently there is no government-certified technology to screen standard-size pallets and large items,” Bisignani said, adding that although there is some promising technology, it is taking too long to get into service. “We must speed up the process.”

IATA also believes its e-freight programme, which is aimed at driving paper out of the air-cargo industry and replacing it with electronic documentation that allows on-line tracking and tracing, has a part to play in improving cargo security.

“By converting some 20 freight documents to an electronic format, we are improving efficiency and providing the tool for accurate insight into who is shipping what and where,” the IATA chief said. “As the industry increases e-freight volumes, governments must expand the use of e-freight from inbound shipments to outbound as well, and use this data to intelligently manage freight security.”

Industry has co-operated with governments to help mitigate risks identified through their intelligence operations, but IATA warns against any knee-jerk reactions.

“It is still early days. Industry is co-operating with government directives on targeted actions for Yemen-origin cargo. If there are any longer-term adjustments required, we must do so with all the facts in hand, with measures targeted to meet specific risks,” said Bisignani.

IATA suggests that one area that needs to be addressed in particular is modernising the 40-year old airport screening process. IATA plans to lead a global effort to build an airport checkpoint of the future, which will both tighten security and ease passenger hassle.

“Belts, shoes and shampoos are not the problem. We must shift the screening focus from looking for bad objects to finding terrorists. To do this effectively we need intelligence and technology at the checkpoint. The enormous amount of data that we collect on passengers can help governments to identify risks,” Bisignani said.

Data is critical to aviation security, IATA believes, as it can help governments to vet travellers and identify threats. Governments have agreed, through ICAO, to global standards for data and a process to collect that information, but not all governments are following these standards.

This is adding to the US$5.9 billion that airlines already spend annually on security, Bisignani noted. New data requirements in India, China, South Korea and Mexico will all add further costs and drain resources, without improving security, he added.

Like IATA, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) urges that any new security measures are practical, cost effective and sustainable, with the aviation industry already spending tens of billions of dollars annually on security. AAPA members are among the leaders in the global air cargo industry, carrying 40 percent of the world’s air freight.

“New security procedures are only justified when it can be demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the additional burdens they impose on society,” said AAPA Director General Andrew Herdman.

Asian Aviation at a glance