Germany's Air Freighters Made to Wait for Cargo Security

July 24, 2006
Staffing issues in government body slows approval process for cargo companies

Germany's air freight community has suffered further delays to the registration process for a new air cargo security system imposed by the government in Berlin, writes Roger Hailey .

Flag carrier Lufthansa Cargo has given its backing to German air freight industry calls for the government body charged with handling the registration process, the severely understaffed Luftfahrt-Bundesamtes, to be given greater resources than the current three people who are expected to deal with in excess of 600 applications. By comparison, the French equivalent has 80 staff at its headquarters.

Harald Zielinski, Lufthansa Cargo's chief of security and risk prevention management, says that the LBA's end of July deadline for processing all the applications 'cannot be met' and suggests that a further extension of the official deadline, to January 2007, is more realistic.

The registration process involves, among other things, detailed examination by the LBA of existing air freight reception sites, supply chain integrity and the supervision of background checks on employees.

The embarassing delays in the LBA system, which is blamed on a lack of central government funding rather than bureaucratic failures at the department itself, have seen freight forwarders in Germany issued with temporary permits.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa Cargo has been investing heavily in security measures at its freight hubs, both worldwide and at home.

In a rare moment of fleeting transparency for the industry, a small number of journalists were allowed to peer if only for a moment into the security that surrounds a major cargo hub like 'fortress' Frankfurt, home to Lufthansa.

The airline has some 50 plus dedicated security staff on its books, whose job is to ensure that global supply chains are kept secure, both from terrorists and organised crime.

Some 45% of Lufthansa's cargo volumes, 1.74m tonnes last year, was carried in the 'bellyhold' space underneath the passenger area, while the remainder went onboard the airline's 19 MD11 freighters.

Mr Zielinski, that rare breed, a security man with a sense of humour, states that Lufthansa Cargo employs a range of equipment, from CCTVs, X-Ray scanners, trace screening and 'state of the art sniffer dogs'.

Referring to the extensive use of CCTVs at Frankfurt there are more than 600 at present with more to come, Mr Zielinski says: 'I read George Orwell's 1984 when I was a young man and now I have become Big Brother number two. But we need to the cameras because we are looking for theft and organised crime.'

The control room filled with television screens is an impressive site, with every misdemeanour be it the stupid abuse of an entry card or blatant theft of mobile phones all backed up on an archive disc and made available to the police when necessary.

Mr Zielinski points out that the surveillance is carried out responsibly and that the local trades unions are happy with the CCTVs and other equipment, part of a corporate citizenship to fight crime and terrorism.

And the results have been impressive at Frankfurt. Starting with a base line of 100% for the value of cargo theft at Frankfurt in the year 2000, the crime levels reached their peak in 2002 at 120% and have since nosedived to 20% last year and a hoped for 10% in 2006.

Given the nature of air freight goods, high value and low weight'volume consumer goods, one theft can run into millions of euros. Indeed, the CCTVs at Frankfurt helped catch one daring villain who made four visits with counterfeit documents and walked away with €5m ($6.3m) in shipments, before he was indentified and arrested.

In terms of the terrorist threat, it is suffice to say that highly sensitive, and expensive trace element detection equipment is employed with impressive effect. Just one molecule is enough to find explosives or guns hidden in an air freight container. And that is without using sniffer dogs.