WASHINGTON_The government announced new security requirements for air cargo Wednesday that include criminal background checks for more than 100,000 cargo airline and freight workers and screeners to check packages delivered to airport ticket counters.
The Transportation Security Administration said it also will use more bomb-sniffing dogs to screen freight shipped by airplane, and it soon will finish hiring 300 new air cargo inspectors, which Congress included in the agency's budget this year.
"We have set a solid foundation for a major segment of the transportation network," said administration chief Kip Haley. "In the time-sensitive and dynamic air cargo industry, a layered security approach is essential to thwarting would-be terrorists."
Cargo pilots long have complained that the government focuses most of its efforts on protecting passenger airliners from terror attacks, leaving cargo planes vulnerable. They point out that cargo planes also could be seized by terrorists and used as weapons.
Some lawmakers have criticized the Bush administration for screening airline passengers and their luggage but not inspecting cargo carried aboard the same airplane.
The air freight industry, though, doesn't want commerce to be impeded.
The TSA's long-awaited plan, originally proposed in November 2004, includes new regulations for restricting access to sections of airports used for loading and unloading cargo.
It also requires the employees of more than 4,000 freight forwarders - agents who accept packages and arrange shipment - to attend security training courses designed by the TSA.
The administration has relied on a "Known Shipper" program to make sure that bombs or weapons do not make their way onto passenger airplanes. Air cargo companies must register with the government and be approved by the TSA before they're allowed to send cargo aboard passenger airliners.
The TSA said it will consolidate 4,000 Known Shipper lists into one so that it can keep closer track of companies that ship cargo on passenger planes.
The agency said it banned three companies from sending cargo on passenger aircraft in recent weeks.
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov