TSA looks to expedite screening for air cargo on US-bound passenger planes
Screening for all air cargo shipped to the US via commercial passenger planes must be in place by the end of 2011, under a TSA proposal. The Yemen bomb plot led TSA to accelerate its timetable.
The Transportation Security Administration is moving ahead, on a faster-than-expected timetable, to close a gap in security screening of international air cargo carried aboard US-bound passenger flights.Skip to next paragraph
Air freight forwarders and members of the global shipping industry learned Friday that TSA appears poised to require them to screen, by year's end, 100 percent of such cargo bound for the United States. That would be two years sooner than expected.
Just last year, the TSA told Congress that screening 100 percent of international in-bound air cargo would be delayed until at least 2013. But TSA is looking to accelerate that timetable after the terrorist bombing attempt in late October, in which explosives were secreted inside printer cartridges sent from Yemen to Chicago – and were intended to blow up in cargo holds of passenger jets while they were in the air. [Editor's note: The last two paragraphs were changed post-publication to make clear that the requirement is not yet final.]
Carriers now have 45 days to comment on the proposed mandate, with TSA reviewing industry comments before it makes the rule final.
A push to screen all cargo was a response to "the latest threats and the considerable progress made by industry in screening international inbound cargo," James Fotenos, a TSA spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. "TSA’s mission is to ensure the safety of the traveling public.... After the thwarted attempt by terrorists to ship explosives aboard aircraft headed to this country last October, TSA immediately took a number of steps to enhance security by tightening existing air cargo."
Among those steps for US-bound international flights, TSA ordered a ban on any cargo designated as "high risk." Other safeguards, meanwhile, heavily restricted small packages sent by mail, which often travel in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft.
The policies, combined with bad weather, meant that some people in the US waited weeks to get their packages, especially over Christmas when there was a big jump in the amount of intercontinental mail. In some cases, the US Postal Service was forced to reroute US-bound mail, putting it on air-cargo-only flights and even ships.
"I had a batch of items sent to the US on the 26th November that took ages," wrote Chocolatecatgirl, an eBay seller in Britain who sells items in the US. "One customer got snotty after 2 weeks and I had to refund."
Delays have lessened as mail volume has dropped – and as postal systems abroad have become familiar with US requirements, say US Postal Service and air cargo experts.
But will new air freight requirements cause the same kind of disruption with air cargo that occurred with small mailed packages in December?