US Releases Long-Awaited Air Cargo Security Regulation

The US government's final rule on air cargo security was issued this week after three years of debate and revision, marking the first major change to the regulations since 1999."Working with the industry, we have set a solid foundation for a major segment of the transportation network," US Transportation Security Administration Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley said. "In addition, TSA is working with our partners on a series of separate operational measures that raise security in air cargo."

The new rule does not require widespread electronic screening of cargo, which both freighter operators such as FedEx and UPS and passenger carriers transporting belly cargo argued would slow operations to a crawl. Instead, it focuses on extending secure areas at airports, requires extensive background checks of workers and heightens scrutiny of "known shipper" lists that allow frequent shippers of airfreight to have their cargo cleared faster.

The rule calls for consolidation of approximately 4,000 known shipper lists into one central database managed by TSA, allowing the agency "to have more visibility into the activities of companies shipping on passenger aircraft and permit more in-depth vetting of known shippers." TSA has said it considers cargo coming from known shippers to be "screened."

The regulation also extends secure areas of airports to include ramps and cargo facilities, a provision TSA said requires an additional 50,000 airline employees "to receive full criminal history background checks." It mandates background checks of approximately 51,000 off-airport employees working for freight forwarders as well.

A public-private working group comprising government officials and representatives of airlines and other operators spent six months in 2003 drafting recommendations for a new airfreight security directive. TSA spent a year mulling the suggestions and issued a proposed air cargo security rule in November 2004. But the final rule endured 18 months of review by TSA, the Dept. of Homeland Security and White House officials before issuance on Wednesday.

TSA said the rule will be complemented by current initiatives to increase cargo inspections at airports, including enhanced use of bomb-sniffing canines and better utilization of TSA workers and equipment at airports handling high volumes of cargo.

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