Air Cargo Security: Is the Industry Ready for a New Mandate?

A Q&A with aviation security specialist William McGuire of Global Security Associates

Absolutely. JFK is an example. Most of the international carriers have X-ray machines in their cargo areas. The international carriers are way ahead of domestic carriers because it's already been done in Europe. So here, the American carriers need to wise up and get their act together before something happens and the industry takes another nose dive.

If we go to a full-fledge air cargo screening process, would it really slow down the shipping process at all?

I don't think so. I think if we go to 100 percent screening, and depending on the type of screening that is done, it could slow down things. But if we use technology and trace detection, then I think we can do it. We can swab every package that comes through the door and detect for explosives in a matter of seconds. So, I think I would say it can be done and it can be done in a timely fashion.

Not only will there be technology needs, but there will be personnel needed to aid the process of handling packages and performing necessary secondary screenings. Can we get the personnel together and trained to meet the proposed 2009 deadline that the House of Representatives has tossed out there?

I think so. They've got two years to get it done. But they'd need to know now to do it. If they wait until the last minute to do it, then there won't be enough time. If you tell everyone now, this is the deadline and it's not up for debate, then they can do that.

This in theory would be a TSA-managed screening project, but do you think there is room and reason to outsource to TSA-approved companies?

I absolutely do, and not just because I'm in private business. I think the government does a fantastic job. I actually think the TSA does a fantastic job. For what they have to do, I give them 100 percent credit. They came in, and it's not the easiest job to stand there and screen someone or something for 8 or 10 hours per day. It's difficult. They're having to ask passengers to take off their shoes, and they don't like that. But this is much better than what we had before 9/11. It was left up to the airlines. It was a low-wage operation that went to the lowest bidder.

I think the government needs to have oversight and manage the program. I think the government needs to mandate what the private industry would be paid in order to recruit and hire good quality personnel. And this is where it becomes essential. If you're just going to have a minimum wage position, you might as well not even have it. You need to get training involved. There has to be initial training and recurrent training. There has to be oversight by the government that these people know what they're doing and that the training is being implemented.

The government needs oversight and management locally and nationally. And that's similar to the pilot project in San Francisco. The TSA basically contracts out to a private company at the San Francisco airport, and it works well. In fact, it works extremely well. There are a few other pilot programs going around the country at other airports where this is also working. If there's good oversight by the government, then it can be contracted out. If we leave it up to airlines, then they're just looking at bottom line and trying to make a profit at the end of the day - which isn't a bad thing - but they need to look at the real picture.