In November, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) proposed the Air Cargo Security Act in response to recent international terrorist threats. Notably, the bill calls for 100 percent screening of all air cargo, which follows last August’s requirement for screening of cargo on passenger airliners in the U.S.
The legislation would cause a chain reaction among shippers, carriers, freight forwarders, and independent cargo screening companies. One independent screener is ComSec International, based near DFW and founded by Judy Davis and Jason Watson, two veterans of compliance services and security, respectively.
Davis recently spoke with airport business regarding the proposed cargo legislation and the state of the industry in general. Here are edited excerpts ...
airport business: In August, TSA enforced the 100 percent cargo screening rule for passenger airliners. What’s your evaluation of where that stands?
Davis: We had the initial mandate after 9/11 that came through. When the mandate hit for passenger [airliner] screening, a lot of it just migrated over to the cargo carriers, and they’re running beyond capacity. If the new legislation goes through, there’s no out on that. Everything is going to have to be screened, and that could pose some real challenges.
ab: There seems to be some disagreement in industry as to whether or not the August deadline is being met. Your thoughts?
Davis: I think it’s being met. I don’t know if it’s being met consistently under the same standards across the board, which would be my concern. There are three different sets of regulations involved. The airlines have a regulation; the indirect air carriers have a regulation; and, as an independent, we have a third regulation.
Anybody that’s just in ground transportation is not regulated at all, except as it interfaces with one of those other three regulations. It’s one of those situations where nobody really knows what the others are doing, in some regards. So, I’m not sure we’re all being held to the same standard of screening. That’s my concern. Yes, I think the airlines are accurately portraying that everything that’s loaded on a passenger aircraft is being screened. There are two things that are not happening. One, they’re not telling you what didn’t get on the plane because it didn’t get screened, so it got pushed back and maybe missed a booking. And the second thing is, they’re not really saying how it got screened — at what level of scrutiny?
ab: A criticism is that TSA is a reactive agency — that is, it reacts to the latest threat. Is that the right approach?
Davis: It is a reaction. We need to get out ahead of it instead of being reactionary. It’s always the bottom line. We have to respond to something that’s happened because the public expects you to respond to it. But the next time they choose to put some kind of explosive in something it’s not going to be a printer cartridge. And it probably isn’t going to come from Yemen. Those two things are now being very highly watched.
ab: One of the responses of federal agencies following 9/11 was the formation of C-TPAT [Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism], a program targeted at supply chain security. It looked like a smart approach to screening cargo, via the supply chain. What do you see as the role of C-TPAT?
Davis: Yes, C-TPAT; and the new one is ‘Ten Plus Two’ that’s on the import side for the U.S. on pre-alert manifestation for anything inbound. It’s kind of a tag-on to C-TPAT. Those are elaborate programs, and if everybody was involved with them it might generally help the situation.
If you qualified to be a C-TPAT participant, and you met all the qualifications and were certified, the standards were very high for that program, and it evolved into an even higher level.
ab: Are ‘one-off’ packages the primary concern when it comes to cargo?
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