Safe & Secure cargo on the go
Non-compliance with standards and over stepping the prescribed safety measures by a small segment of shippers are posing challenges to air cargo security. This practice, if continued, will lead to disasters that will adversely affect the air cargo value chain. Imposing stricter compliance rules and creating more awareness about the impending danger is the only way to plug the holes.
Renjini Liza Varghese
Freight movement plays a crucial role in the trade of any country. Air cargo has gained a significant position in terms of the preferred mover of high value cargo. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airlines transported 52 million metric tonnes of goods, representing more than 35 percent of the global trade by value in 2016. However, if considered in volume terms, it constitutes bearly one percent of the total cargo moved worldwide.
The pattern and components of goods carried by air has changed in the recent past with the onset of e-commerce platforms. Interestingly, of late, there is a sizeable increase in the volume of electronic goods shipped as air cargo. Experts name air cargo as the backbone of the thriving e-commerce industry as it offers the time advantage over other modes of transportation.
In the new era of technology, ensuring safety and security in the air cargo appears to be easy than earlier. However, the surge in electronic goods cargo bring along impediments that are not dealt with earlier. On one hand, when the freight forwarders and airlines are banking on technology to assure 100 percent safety during transit, they are also becoming more vulnerable to newer threats.
The key concern that is marring the industry currently is the possible danger from the packed lithium batteries. As these items reach various carriers in the packed form, airlines and airports are left with very little option, but to accept them believing what is recorded on the packets.
IATA dangerous goods regulation says that lithium batteries are forbidden for transport as cargo on the passenger aircraft unless shipped under exemption issued by all states concerned. And batteries must be shipped at a state of charge (SoC) not exceeding 30 percent of their rated design capacity. Cells and/or batteries at a SoC of greater than 30 percent may only be shipped with the approval of the state of origin, and the state of the operator under the written conditions established by those authorities. While there are regulations drawn separately for every item carried by air, dangerous goods have the highest specification of standards.
Worldwide, individual countries with the help of industry bodies like the IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been prompt in implementing regulations for safer transfer of goods by the air. The regulators adapt amendments to these from time to time.
The rules are established by ICAO and are readily available to shippers who are obliged to comply. The rules cover what commodities can be carried on passenger aircraft vs freighters, and in what quantities. The mandate also describes the percentage the batteries can be charged while being transported. The measure is aimed to lessen the likelihood of an untoward incident.
IATA recently urged all countries for the swift implementation of the first Global Aviation Security Plan (GASeP), which was established by the Council of the ICAO.
"Flying is secure, but it is also clear that aviation faces security challenges. GASeP has the potential to strengthen security globally by providing governments with a global plan to which they can align their national efforts. The critical factor is implementation. It must be quick, comprehensive and global," said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO, IATA.
The safety of the consignment contents are an issue the air cargo industry is grappling with currently. The nature of goods transported through air cargo is versatile. The security screening of consignments is important. It requires large investments. Though the industry is making investments in technology in terms of sophisticated screens equipment, it may not be sufficient enough.
Industry stakeholders admit that there are loopholes that require urgent plugging. Majority of shippers fully comply with regulations, however, a small number who may not be aware of the applicable regulations as they are new to the industry, and a few others who may be aware, but deliberately fail to comply.
Glyn Hughes, global head of cargo, IATA, pointed out that the increase in e-commerce, which has brought a large number of new shippers into the international air cargo sector who aren’t familiar with international regulations related to the safe transport of certain goods is one of the major challenges in the industry.
The other challenges are, he continued, “Non-compliant lithium battery shipments. By non-compliant we mean either not manufactured in accordance with accepted safe processes, or not declared according to regulations when entering the supply chain or not packaged and labeled as per required practices.”
The electronics industry accounts for around 40 percent of the value of the entire international air cargo industry. Airliners and safety experts continue to raise concerns pertaining to the transport of electronic goods via air cargo.
“There are regulations put in by individual countries in association with industry bodies regarding the transportation of lithium battery by air. The challenge in this is physically verifying the presence of such material during the transportation,” said Ahmad Luqman Mohd Azmi, chief executive officer, MASKargo.
Flight Safety Foundation, an international research firm has urged the air cargo industry to study threats from storing more electronics in cargo, which may overheat and cause explosions or leakages if unintentionally left turned on. However, given the surge of exports and imports of electronics pan globe, it is difficult to completely ban carriage of all electronic items.Vineet Malhotra, director, Kale Logistics Solutions said, “Though they may be reported safe under standard conditions, in course of air cargo transportation, goods such as electronics are likely to explode or leak causing potential threat to the carrying flight. In case of many smaller operators, sensitive goods like batteries, phones etc., may not be tested under severe air cabin pressure conditions. Security compromise leading to such potential hazards can cause significant loss of capital and life to the air cargo value chain participants.”
How safe is your cargo
Safety remains a national regulatory accountability. Implementation is critical in securing safety standards in air transport. Industry bodies however raise the point that countries put in regulation without consulting them.
IATA representative commented that the industry body responds to government safety and security amendments as and when they materialise. “All share the same objective which is safe and secure air transport, however many regulators still impose regulations without industry engagement. The industry consultation would ensure measures are workable and don’t add unnecessary complexity or restrictions."
Malhotra further opined, “Worldwide trade controllers lack standard security and operation processes. It is a major lag. As global trade is fostering, air cargo industry players must come together to form a charter to encourage and support standardisation of common security norms and safety practices across the air cargo segment. Very preliminary guidelines pertaining to commodity classifications into admissible or non-admissible commodities, regulations on what constitutes as safe or unsafe packages and; what can or cannot be air ported or how contents will be checked and verified under different conditions need to be established.”
Hughes continued, “We represent the industry in working with regulators to try and ensure effective measures are in place. We also engage in education programmes to reach out to e-commerce platforms to ensure they are aware of international regulations. We are also working with the UPU (Universal Postal Union) to ensure their customers are aware of regulations."
“Criminal penalties would be the appropriate action against individuals and companies who deliberately fail to comply with the safety regulations, which are designed to protect consumers, supply chain professionals and the air transport industry in general. This would serve as the best deterrent against others considering deliberate noncompliance.”
“Empowering the staff with right skill set to handle security is very important,” says Luqman. “For this, every organisation has to put in extra efforts to train the staff to handle and ensure the content of the cargo is the same as it is labelled. It is a combination of human and technology, which secures the safety of air cargo.”
The industry experts also pointed out the need for norms pertaining to the usage of automated digital systems with high data safeguarding features to streamline and make air cargo transactions secure.
Role of technology
The role of technology in safeguarding security lines is as important as the human interferences. The standardisation of documents and technologies used are also imperative to improve the secured line in air cargo.
Malhotra was vocal about adapting technology. He said, “Certainly, in my opinion utilising standardised and quality information procedures is key to enhancing security, expediting clearances, optimising resources and facilitating global trade. Adopting cutting-edge enterprise and community platforms designed specially to cater to a gamut of air cargo operations can drive much needed standardisation and cohesion. Such adoption has the potential to amplify the security and safety standards across the domain."
The best example of such standardisation is IATA’s Cargo-XML messaging standard, which is integrated in the World Customs Organisation's (WCO) Cargo Targeting System (WCO CTS), a risk assessment tool, which is available to WCO member countries worldwide. This integration has enabled electronic communication between airlines and customs using the IATA Cargo-XML standards format. Not only has this facilitated easier communication, but has also enabled more accurate risk assessments by capturing advance electronic cargo manifest information.
Malhotra further added, “In addition to technology, trade controllers like customs and government authorities must become more assertive in their expectations of suitable cyber hygiene across businesses and national/international infrastructures. EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with its data protection provisions, and the EU Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive are other examples. Though Cyber threats cannot be completely eradicated, they can certainly be managed by establishing stronger collaboration between governments and key industry stakeholders, and by adopting a strong information security framework.”
Tough way forward
Recently, the Brussels Airport started using Z Backscatter van to scan aircraft. The van is fully equipped with built-in Z Backscatter x-ray imaging technology that can scan planes from the outside to check various forms of contraband which could otherwise not be detected. The General Administration of Customs and Excise Duties (GAC&E) expanded the usage of this scanner to the airport. They had already bought a similar device in 2014 that is used mainly to inspect containers and vehicles in the port of Antwerp.
Companies like Kale Logistics has developed a community and enterprise platform - GALAXY that offer secure, safe and automated flow of operations. GALAXY helps air cargo value chain participants to carry out transactions in conformity with e-freight, e-AWB and e-CSD initiatives.
“Airlines is a well regulated segment and measures are well in place in this segment to safeguard the safety of the cargo. However, there should be a single code that can be followed by all countries. This would make the process easier for the operators,” commented Luqman.
Hughes signed off by saying, “It’s all about working with regulators to achieve reasonable, and workable regulations that enhance safety without restricting trade. In parallel, we should look at educating all those involved in the supply chain regarding the applicable regulations, and finally working with law enforcement and other regulatory agencies about compliance oversight.”
While a cross section of the industry feels that, GASeP, if comprehensively implemented, would address four key elements to improve security. They are i) Closer government-to-government cooperation to eliminate long-term challenges of extraterritorial measures; ii) The universal application of global standards; iii) Better information-sharing among governments and industry; and iv) The efficient implementation of new and existing technology capabilities.
It is clearer now that risks attached to safety and security in air cargo may intensify going forward as cyber security also comes into play.