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Cargo screening

The expectations of cargo screening; by Peter Kant, EVP of Global Government Affairs at Rapiscan Systems.

Air cargo is essential to global sourcing, manufacturing and assembling, and, without secure distribution, countries would suffer economically. It is therefore imperative that speed and accuracy of cargo security scanning remains at a high standard. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the USA recently announced that it has set a deadline for passenger air carriers to conduct 100 percent cargo screening on international flights bound for the United States. From December 2012, all cargo shipments loaded on passenger aircraft must undergo screening for explosives. This will require all containers and freights to be completely security screened either before they are delivered to the airport for distribution or at the airport before departure.

Following recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Act, which came into force in 2007, the decision to screen air cargo using scanners and security personnel is indicative of the threat environment that we all live in; we are all well aware of the dangers that can be caused by terrorism and the threat is ever present. The current requirement for the screening of 50 percent of air cargo bound for the USA means that air cargo companies will now have to double their screening capacity in order to maintain current levels of throughput and comply with the new regulations. This also has to be achieved in just a few short months in order to meet the TSA deadline and, with air cargo traffic due to triple over the next 20 years, freight companies and airports may be challenged to cope with the extra security screening workload.

On a more positive note, regulators in the European Union have recently reached an agreement with the US that will help European airports and air cargo companies meet the upcoming deadline. Under this new agreement, the TSA will now recognise air cargo screened to EU standards as meeting its own requirements, eliminating possible duplication of security screening and the need to employ different screening procedures based on cargo destination. As a consequence of this recognition, private industry can now move cargo though the 27 EU Member States, the US and Switzerland, while following a single set of security rules. In 2010 air cargo traffic between the EU and the US was over a million tonnes, which is over 20% of all outbound air cargo from the EU.
Simplifying the process
Air cargo companies now need to deploy and utilise security screening technologies and procedures that not only assist airport security staff in effectively identifying potential dangers, but also are approved by both the TSA and the EU. These two factors are essential to enable air cargo companies outside of the US to comply with the upcoming cargo screening deadline.
Moreover, security scanners need to be user-friendly, efficient and powerful enough to detect any threat that might prove to be a potential danger to an outbound flight. For example, the Rapiscan 638DV is an advanced Dual-View X-ray screening system for Unit Load Device (ULD) type, ISO standard, lower deck and large cargo pallet type freights. It uses innovative dual-view technology to generate a horizontal and vertical view of the object under inspection. By providing two views simultaneously, the Rapiscan 638DV provides a more complete perspective of scanned items, regardless of their orientation in the X-ray system. This reduces the need to reposition and re-scan pallets, thereby improving detection and increasing speed of throughput.

Another aid that is used to accelerate the scanning process without jeopardising safety is Rapiscan’s security solution “Target”, which uses proprietary detection algorithms that perform a material analysis of a scanned item. By gathering data such as atomic number, mass, size and other properties of the scanned materials and comparing this information to the known characteristics of threat items such as explosives, Target is able to identify potential threats accurately.
With 1,082,000 tonnes of cargo being transported from Europe to North America per year, these technologies will not only help air cargo companies run more efficiently, but also help the industry cope with predicted growth in air cargo volumes.

A major step forward has been taken towards the globalisation of the air cargo world by the EU and the US regulators; the agreement also has significant potential benefits for air forwarders and cargo companies, specifically lowered costs and speedier schedules. With one standard to meet (at least when it comes to shipping between the US and the EU), these companies can now focus on how to meet the security screening requirements efficiently, without reducing throughput.

Regulators around the globe may agree to apply a single security screening standard for air-cargo. If this ever does happen, it will provide significant benefits to air cargo companies, airports and those companies that design, develop and deliver advanced air cargo screening technology.


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