Airfreight stepping up safety, security for an uncertain future

One of the crucial unique selling points for airfreight is its ability to provide reliable safety and security to the cargo compared to any other mode of transport. However, the modern world poses several threats to the aviation industry and pushes it forward to adopt techniques and procedures that would transform it.

Airfreight stepping up safety, security for an uncertain future

One of the crucial unique selling points for airfreight is its ability to provide reliable safety and security to the cargo compared to any other mode of transport. However, the modern world poses several threats to this status of the aviation industry and pushes it forward to adopt techniques and procedures that would entirely transform its business structure.

Along with its speed and efficiency, the promise of safety and security is what helps air cargo to attract shippers especially that of high valued commodities. However, pushing all air cargo shipments down to rigorous safety and security check would also require more time, may end up delaying it and lose its competitive advantage of providing the least transit time.

Air cargo industry is heavily shifting from traditional means of security checking like the canine method to modern equipment. The industry use x-rays, explosive detection systems and explosive trace detections equipment for identifying potential threats. According to a study published by ReportLinker in September 2020, the global market for air cargo security equipment is projected to reach a size of $27.6 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 5.1 per cent from $19.5 billion in 2020.

Greatest security & safety concerns
Transportation of lithium batteries is one of the greatest concerns for air cargo due to its ability to pose a safety risk by creating explosive environments. However, the aviation industry cannot completely avoid lithium batteries, as they have become the favourite source of energy for several electronic goods around the world.

For instance, in July 2020, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777 freighter aircraft caught fire at Shanghai Pudong International Airport due to the lithium batteries listed on the manifest. Thus industry associations and government regulators have introduced various protocols to control the movement of lithium batteries through the air.

Terrorism is another threat that the air cargo industry is facing which includes explosives and materials from which explosives are made. For example, the two packages moved from Yemen to Chicago in 2010 through the air had printer cartridges containing explosive materials for a terror plot.

The movement of Covid-19 vaccine is the most anticipated safety and security challenge for stakeholders in the air freight industry. Avoiding temperature excursions and possible theft would be a herculean task for them.

In a response to The STAT Trade Times, International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) informed, “Lithium batteries shipped as cargo and the safety of the supply chain are the greatest safety & security concerns of ICAO. Damaged or defective lithium batteries have the potential to short circuit, catch fire and emit gases that create an explosive environment. Lithium batteries are not permitted for transport by any mode of transport unless they have passed specific tests, but manufacturers can sometimes try to circumvent these.”

The security threat to the air cargo system as a whole is evolving. Since the attempted terrorist plot in October 2010 to introduce IEDs in air cargo to destroy aircraft in flight, ICAO has intensified efforts to promote a strong, sustainable and resilient air cargo security regulatory framework.

“Over the past decade, we have worked with member states to progressively strengthen Annex 17 SARPs and related guidance material. Specifically, Annex 17 in Chapter 4.6 (security of cargo, mail and other goods) defines a minimum or baseline security level that must be applied to all cargo and mail. Among those measures, appropriate screening is to be implemented at the point of origin. And at points of transfer, ICAO member states should satisfy themselves that security controls previously applied to cargo and mail meet Annex 17,” ICAO commented.

Sonny Lorrius, regional spokesperson (representing Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States, said, ” The air cargo sector faces continuing threats, such as insider threat or the potential introduction of an explosive device by a shipper within the supply chain. The 2010 bomb plot in Yemen and 2017 incident in Australia underscore the ever-present danger that these threats pose to the global transportation system, as well as the need for TSA to continue bolstering its overall security posture and partnerships around the world.”

Céline Hourcade, transition director, The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), said, “Before everything else, safety and security remain aviation’s first priorities. It is paramount to protect the lives of the crew, passengers and ground staff at any time. Concerns remain with terrorist threats and undeclared or mis-declared lithium batteries, especially with the rise of e-commerce and airmail. In addition, it is also critical for our industry to ensure the airfreight supply chain is not used or abused for illegal trafficking: wildlife, counterfeit drugs, or any other types of illegal dangerous substances. Security of the critical shipments, especially PPEs earlier this year and soon the future Covid-19 vaccines, were and will be under high scrutiny.”

Vijan Chetty, board member, Cool Chain Association (CCA) and general manager of the coastal division within the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) of South Africa, said, “The greatest concern is the seamless uninterrupted movement of the temperature-controlled freight through the supply chain. There are several interruptions with the movement of air cargo that results in temperature excursions that may impact the loss and waste of products. Products not pre-cooled to the required product temperatures, time lost during loading and off-loading processes, inspections by authorities, improper packaging, inadequate thermal insulation and long waits on the tar are some of the concerns by the CCA. Another concern is the lack of collaborative partnerships and information sharing by industries.”

Nicola Caristo, secretary-general, CCA and airline partner manager, SkyCell AG, said, “It’s to be in control of the process – considering the different scenarios including different packaging solutions and different regulations. Especially at critical points like the airports where many key elements come together. This is why the CCA has launched a Covid-19 Distribution Change Management Matrix aimed at supporting airports to prepare their logistics for Covid -19 vaccines in a methodical way.”

“The Matrix looks at adherence to temperature requirements, packaging, forecast and quantity, and timeframe across different stages in a vaccine’s journey through an airport,” he added.

Transportation of lithium batteries is one of the greatest concerns for air cargo due to its ability to pose a safety risk by creating explosive environments.

Evolving regulations
The air cargo industry is in the constant debate regarding how to formulate new regulations to determine the security of air freight and particularly how to implement them. The TSA was in the middle of many of these discussions. The rising number of e-commerce shipments increases the need for a stricter form of regulations and screening due to the variety of sizes and styles by which it comes, while some shippers demand preferential treatment.

ICAO has adopted new standards that became applicable in November 2020 which require operators to establish policies and procedures for the transport of items in the cargo compartment including the conduct of a specific safety risk assessment. The safety risk assessment is required to include various elements, including the capabilities of the aircraft and its systems, and the safety of the supply chain for items to be transported. The new standards also require the elements of the cargo compartment fire protection system to be provided in documentation supporting the operation of the aeroplane so that the operator knows its limitation.

ICAO noted, “We does not comment publicly on security implementation in its member states. However, it is essential that an ICAO member state adopts a supply chain approach to air cargo security. Tonnes of cargo are prepared for each individual flight and there are only brief windows of time before scheduled departures. Screening of all cargo by the aircraft operator at the last moment before departure could slow down the flow of air transport, which may contain essential medical supplies.”

Lorrius, said, “All cargo tendered for transport by air is subject to a search or inspection in accordance with federal regulations. Any person or entity who tenders cargo for transportation by air must consent to a search or inspection, or their cargo will be refused. Consent to screen authorization is required to ensure that shippers are aware that all shipments are subject to screening. If shippers screen their own cargo under the provisions of the Certified Cargo Screening Program, their shipments are still eligible for and subject to TSA screening.”

“As mandated by the TSA Modernization Act of 2018, TSA has re-established the Air Cargo Division. This effort will help align existing resources, initiatives, and stakeholders to a common future state. TSA will operationalize the strategy through implementation plans and stakeholder engagement. This alignment and collaboration among internal and external stakeholders will build a shared vision on how to achieve outlined goals and objectives,” he added.

Hourcade, said, “In general, TIACA calls for 1) smart regulations and harmonized procedures supporting profitable, efficient, sustainable air cargo; 2) fair practices while ensuring the maximum level of safety and security, and 3) public-private cooperation to address the issues of lithium batteries and illegal trafficking. We also urge governments to take full responsibility for oversight and enforcement of DG Regulations in the specific case of willful non-compliance by the shippers who mis-describe the shipment to hide the presence of dangerous goods.”

Chetty, noted, “Some industries, for example, pharma, are requesting mandatory certification by industries to handle products. Inspections and checks are moving to more controlled environments to prevent temperature excursions. Inspections to validate safety and security is intensifying within the US, UK, Asia and EU. Within Europe and the UK, there are intentions to provide more cold storage space to comply with temperature regulations. There is also a strong drive from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to strengthen procedures on logistics and temperature management of perishable products.”

Caristo, commented, “Because of the needs of the Covid-19 vaccine, regulators are allowing shippers to simplify the process to make things faster. Regulations are already there; the change is coming from governments. They are now getting involved directly with the process of movement of temperature-controlled cargo. Governments want to be sure to have the process under the control and are trying to simplify the chain as much as possible to ensure efficient movement of cargo.”

Due to the intensity of the challenge, security is a place where all stakeholders have to not only discuss but also help each other to avoid risk by filling the gap in both communications and adhering to regulations. Aviation and air cargo functions as a global system and the ICAO standards which countries adopt are instrumental in aligning their respective regulations and measures.

ICAO informed, “Our guidance materials are also informed by expert assessments and provide countries and operators with invaluable resources relevant to their respective responsibilities and obligations, and the effective implementation of recommendations and measures.”

Lorrius, said, “TSA plans on continuing to develop our strategic path forward for implementing data and intelligence-driven improvements to air cargo policies, regulations, and threat detection to increase efficiency and performance over the next five years. TSA looks to increase its agility and anticipate economic trends and security threats, as well as accelerate innovation through smart investments and cooperative partnerships.”

“TSA air cargo security programs are consistently being improved upon to increase their efficacy and updated to account for the changing landscape. TSA routinely approves new technologies to screen air cargo and works closely with industry partners to ensure that new technologies are both effective at screening and cost-efficient for the industry. Third-party canine providers are a critical component of the air cargo screening process for passenger air carriers and will become integral for mail screening and all-cargo carriers after June 2021,” he added.

Hourcade, said, “Increasing safety and security starts with better training and experienced staff. This is why we have developed a Safe Supply Chain training course to raise industry awareness of air cargo safety issues, the causes and impact of such issues on the air cargo supply chain, together with ICAO and Strategic Aviation Solutions International (SASI).”

Chetty, said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that “business abnormal” prevails. The CCA is positioning themselves to be the voice of the industry and create awareness through effective collaboration and communication. CCA aims to create top of the mind awareness of the safety of people and products. It aims to create collaborative partnerships within the industry.”

Caristo, informed, “With the interaction of our members – sharing methodology and best practise and results in the industry – we ensure collaboration. The projects that we work on at the CCA aim to ensure we share the key methodology with all of our members. Our Covid-19 Distribution Change Management Matrix project focusses not only on airports that already have clear procedures but smaller centres where they don’t have the same infrastructure. The Matrix also supports our ongoing goal to find tangible ways to improve the temperature supply chain and fight food loss, as well as making sure pharma consignments safely reach their destinations.”

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