More testing needed on advanced data programmes, TIACA boss says

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TIACA secretary general Doug Brittin

Major changes are set to come into effect in air cargo security as states look to make the supply chain more secure to counter the increasing threat of terrorism, which remains as high as ever.

The US, European Union (EU) and Canada are at various stages of advance data pilot programmes started following the Yemen terrorist incident in 2010, when two US-bound packages contained explosives and highlighted the need for a security overhaul.

The incident involved two cargo aircraft and brought more focus on in-bound cargo, highlighting the importance of data, particularly cooperation between customs and aviation security authorities.

The International Air Cargo Association’s (TIACA) secretary general, Doug Brittin (pictured) tells Air Cargo Week there is still much work to be done, and more testing needs to be done, while getting various programmes aligned is of paramount importance especially as more states look to run projects.

In January, Brittin attended a joint working group of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and World Customs Organization (WCO) on advance cargo in Geneva (Switzerland), the fifth meeting in 18 months.

He says: “The group is trying to get to a framework document as three countries are starting advanced data and we as industry, feel it is important that those align to the greatest degree as possible.

“But even more broadly than that, if other countries are looking at that in the future it is extremely important they take the lessons learnt out of the pilot work and testing from these programmes, so you do not just have a multitude of programmes not working together (along the same lines).”

Brittin says the working group’s goal was to move towards a high-level framework document for future states considering similar programmes to the US, EU and Canada.

He feels good progress was made: “We were able to get the 7+1 element into the WCO safe document and formalise that, which was good, as there was discussion of ‘is that enough’ and should it be a minimum of 7+1, but we felt from an industry stand-point you cannot go there, and keep asking for more and more.”

However, he notes there remain significant challenges on data transmission, message streams, processes, security screening protocols and compliance related issues. “For us and particularly regulators to write a basic framework document, we put it into perspective of a prescription would not be written without understanding the condition of a patient, and speaking with people running the pilots more testing needs to be done.

“What we have ended up with which is a good thing, we have done some good things, but there is an extensive laundry list of other things that need to be tested. The goal is to set a priority of those issues and what can be tackled in the time frame, which TIACA is heading up through a working group with industry (people running pilots).”

Brittin says issues that need to be resolved include on automated systems and data exchange, response protocols, routing and transfer (moving shipments through regions), and operations and compliance (who does what, where and what has to be inspected and reported) and other sub-sets he could not reveal.

Brittin says: “We set a time frame of a month and a half that we along with regulators and pilots will set joint priorities and work towards time frames to test those. It is important everyone is involved in testing and that information is shared from that.”

He observes it leaves the message out there to anybody considering a Pre-Loading Advance Cargo Information (PLACI) type regime, there is more than meets the eye and it should not be jumped into too soon and  must be fully assessed.

The US is running an Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) pilot project, a joint initiative between the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The programme screens shipments before they make it onto aircraft and utilises the 7+1 data set, which includes the number of pieces, weight, general cargo description, shipper name and address, consignee name and address and the airway bill number.

This enables carriers and freight forwarders to send and receive advance security filing data and related action messages for all air cargo through CBP’s Automated Targeting System.

Brittin says 300 million shipments have been moved through the ACAS pilot in five years and from 193 different countries. He feels positive and negative things have come out of the programme: “Good things have come out such as someone in industry can transmit the data early in the supply chain, but there is a limited data set and fewer than 30 participants are in the pilot  and although it is a lot of shipments, the express sector has contributed 95 per cent.

“But when you get involved with the freight forwarding community trying to communicate the information directly into the systems or moving it even through their airline to get the right data in time for them to submit it, these have not be tested in real detail and there are connectivity issues because of the system, which take time to resolve and money, so rather than jump too quickly we decided it was best to further test those type of things.”

Brittin says TIACA would also like to see more use by operators of a more traditional air cargo security screening method – canines. “When you look at high-volume large shipments, canines are much more effective and cost effective in both cases but efficient in screening those configurations than technology, but we understand from the regulators stand-point there is a need to make sure they are doing the job they trained to do, which costs money too.”

He adds canines are very effective in multi-configuration consolidations.

Brittin concludes that  improving air cargo security across the supply chain through accurate advanced data was not a quick fix and it is important to get it right.

In order to get to the eventual goal of enhanced security, substantial testing still needs be done before regulators bring in new industry legislation.