TSA details plans for Certified Cargo Screening Program

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) has begun detailing its plans for implementing a congressional mandate that all cargo being carried on passenger planes in the U.S. be screened for explosives includes not only air carriers and freight forwarders but also manufacturers, possible third party screeners and others, agency officials say.

TSA officials working on the agency's Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP) began a road show last month informing the trade community of plans to implement screening requirements for air cargo that were mandated by Congress last year. Those mandates require 50 percent of all cargo taking off on domestic passenger flights be screened by Feb. 2009 and 100 percent of the cargo on domestic passenger flights to be screened by Aug. 2010.

Air carriers, which are the airlines, are currently responsible for screening a certain percentage--the amount is classified--of cargo that is loaded on their passenger flights originating in the U.S. Ultimately, even under the CCSP program the air carriers are responsible for ensuring the cargo they'll be lifting has been screened, whether they do the screening or someone else does it. But the problem with having the air carriers do all of the screening is that they don't have the time, at least if they are going to meet their flight schedules, or the real estate to get it all done under the new mandates.

A lot of the near-term attention on the CCSP program has been focused on an upcoming pilot program in which indirect air carriers (IACs), basically freight forwarders, will screen shipments at their respective facilities before transporting them to the air carriers. The IAC Screening Technology Pilot, which currently involves 14 IACs at 69 facilities, should be up and running soon and will help toward meeting the Feb. 2009 deadline, Marc Rossi, the branch chief for TSA's CCSP, says at the annual Trade Symposium hosted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The purpose of the IAC Screening Technology Pilot is to get an understanding of how screening technologies will work and also to help figure out the screening capacity of the freight forwarders, Kim Costner Moore, assistant general manager for Air Cargo Security Programs at TSA, says at the symposium.

The purpose of CCSP is to push screening as deep as possible into the supply chain, to include manufacturers and shipping facilities, according to briefing charts presented by Rossi and his cohorts at TSA.

The CCSP effort represents a significant opportunity in the U.S. and international markets for inspection equipment, Deepak Chopra, chairman and CEO of OSI Systems [OSIS], says on the company's recent first quarter earnings call.

OSI Systems recently announced a $3 million contract with an undisclosed freight forwarder for the company's MVXR 5000 X-Ray inspection systems, the largest order to date from an IAC for screening air cargo, he says.

In addition to manufacturers, shippers, IACs and air carriers, TSA says that facilities applying to become Certified Cargo Screening Facilities (CCSF) also include third party logistics providers, contract manufacturers, warehouses and distribution centers, and independent cargo screening facilities (ICSF). The creation of ICSFs, which have loosely been referred to as the 'car wash concept,' represents a chance for new entrants to screen cargo on behalf of elements of the supply chain, Rossi says.

So far there have been over 300 applications to participate in CCSP, including more than 200 of which are IACs, Rossi says.

Acceptable Screening Methods

The list of screening technologies that can be used under CCSP is sensitive and TSA won't release it publicly, but it includes various items already certified or qualified by the agency. These are Advanced Technology X- Ray systems, explosive trace detectors, metal detectors, TSA operated bomb sniffing canines, decompression chambers, and physical searches.

A company that packages food products could use metal detectors prior to shipping their goods, Rossi says. He doesn't expect wide spread use of metal detectors but notes that each industry has its own unique environment.

The physical screening can be as easy as having certified individuals at a CCSF visually inspect their product before closing the box, such as in a "pick and pack" operation, and then affixing an approved seal to demonstrate compliance, Rossi says. However, companies that package other manufacturer's products, much like a retail firm such as Best Buy [BBY] might do when bringing together electronic goods from several manufacturers and packaging them in a single box for eventual assembly by a consumer, couldn't rely on a visual inspection unless all the products had been screened by the original manufacturers, he says.

Rossi points out that CCSP is a facility-based program, meaning that individual facilities and related personnel will be vetted to ensure they meet security requirements. The program is also voluntary so if a manufacturer or IAC chooses not to participate they will have to rely on another node in the supply chain to conduct the security screening, he says.

However, Rossi says there is an incentive for participation in CCSP among members of the supply chain because no one wants to get stuck in a backlog at the airport waiting for an air carrier to do all the screening.

In between the points where screening takes place and cargo is loaded onto planes the supply chain will have to ensure a secure chain of custody. There already is "detailed chain of custody procedures that have been written into existing security programs and that which has been created for the shippers," Rossi says.

TSA says it is comfortable it the 50 percent screening mandate will be met by Feb. 1, 2009. In October the agency said that 100 percent of cargo being carried on narrow body passenger planes is already being screened, which amounts to about 25 percent of all air freight on passenger planes in the U.S.

Prior to the congressional screening mandates, TSA had been focused on a layered approach to mitigating risk on air cargo shipments that would have included targeted screening.

CBP currently employs software tools that help it identify cargo shipments originating in foreign countries and ports for more intense scrutiny, in particular X-Ray inspections. TSA has been collaborating with CBP on similar software tools but isn't implementing them now because of the focus on 100 percent screening, Moore says. At some point, she adds, TSA will put more emphasis on these risk assessment tools. "100 percent screening is not the silver bullet," she says.

Loading