Greater use of technology aims to facilitate the challenge of screening growing volumes of cargo, but training is equally important.
In September, Smiths Detection, one of the top providers of security screening equipment – added a new x-ray device to its arsenal of products. According to the manufacturer, the unit has been specifically designed to meet the needs of air cargo screening.
It features two newly developed scanners (one of them uniquely positioned under the conveyor belt to achieve superior image quality), digitally controlled generators, advanced analysis and diagnostics capabilities, an internal memory to store important life cycle data, and a compact footprint for congested air cargo environments.
A new electronics platform facilitates optimised image presentation and easy integration into material handling systems.
It goes without saying that the new product is equipped with two scanners. One fundamental change that users of x-ray technology are facing is the shift from single to dual-view technology, as mandated by US and EU regulators.
“We move away from single view security to dual view from 2020,” says Wilma Kruger, vice president Security Management Systems at Menzies Aviation. “We’re prepared for the roll-out of dual technology. We will move gradually in all places.”
The US Customs & Border Protection agency is currently in the process of deploying new-generation scanning equipment to screen full trucks. Voices in the air cargo industry have called for similar capabilities to scan full pallets and containers.
This could greatly speed up cargo screening, especially when it comes to consolidations – which currently have to be broken down and scanned at the piece level. “Most handling agents have difficulty in having out-of-gage security screening,” remarks Kruger.
Providers like Smiths Detection have such units in their portfolio, but take-up in the industry has been negligible. The US Transportation Security Agency (TSA) has shown little inclination to promote and certify such technology.
Kruger does not expect to see rapid progress on that front: “It’s a long way to go in the industry to have that in place,” she comments, “It’s also a question of space.” The large footprint of such units does not sit easily with handlers’ efforts to maximise floor space utilisation on prime real estate.
To some extent, the need for full pallet screening capability has been mitigated in the US by the implementation of a canine screening programme, which kicked off at the start of this year, remarks Brandon Fried, executive director at the US Airforwarders Association (AfA).
“In some stations, it’s been used to great success. The appeal is the speed of screening you can do,” says Kruger. Fried agrees that the use of sniffer dogs has been highly successful. The AfA had been a vocal advocate for the introduction of canine screening.
Nevertheless, Kruger sees the concept at an early stage of validation in the air cargo security arena. While early results have been encouraging, the track record and amount of data collected are not substantial enough at this point to confirm canine screening as a proven concept.
“It still has a long way to prove itself,” she says, adding that historically x-rays have the most established track record in the industry.
The need for other methods of screening is mounting, though. The most powerful catalyst for this is the exponential growth of e-commerce, which has added concerns about risks to aircraft through lithium batteries, rising flows of illegal drugs and counterfeit goods into the mix.
This has spawned the development of trace detection technology and lithium battery detectors for operators to consider adding to their screening capabilities.
Kruger is philosophical about the dangers lurking in e-commerce. “In aviation, every day is a game-changer. Today it’s lithium batteries, tomorrow it’s something else. Training and awareness are key to us. We must be able to adapt,” she comments.
Joe Lawrence, president of Cargo GSSA, Airline Services International, finds e-commerce challenging, “It has definitely changed the business to a large degree, and with this comes challenges. Companies give you boxes or bags that hold a mix of commodities. Having to scan that is not easy,” he says. “Some of the warehouses have to break down skids and pallets.”
US Customs has shown signs of being seriously overburdened by the deluge of e-commerce. The detachment of numerous officers to immigration duties on the Mexican border earlier this year has not helped there.
The agency is looking increasingly to data flows to cope and detect suspicious shipments, from potential terrorist threats to illegal drugs. In August, it mounted a trial programme targeting e-commerce shipments with a declared value below the US de minimis threshold of $800, following earlier tests with advance data submission schemes involving air, ocean and rail companies.
Probably the most important move along these lines pertaining to air cargo has been the change of the reporting windows for incoming airfreight under the Air Cargo Advance Security (ACAS) programme – from previously four hours before landing to prior to loading at the origin, which was implemented last year. The TSA has extended this from airlines to forwarders.
Fried says that the trials apparently went without serious problems. To most of the forwarders that participated in the pilot runs the start of the official regime was a non-event, he adds.
For the vast majority of US forwarders, though, it was not an event at all. “Most forwarders don’t have overseas offices. They leave it to their overseas agent, so basically, this still falls on the airlines. Only the larger companies with higher volumes file themselves,” says Fried.
Those forwarders that have not bothered with ACAS have avoided one strand of electronic data exchange, but the push into digitisation is advancing on virtually all fronts. Menzies makes sure that security declarations are handled electronically. “We’ve become very technology-based,” remarks Kruger.
The handling company has invested in technology, and a chunk of this has gone into the way it communicates with clients, she adds.
According to her, handlers have started playing a bigger role in security. “There is a bigger focus on what we do and how we do it. Things have changed a lot since we started with regulated agents’ programmes,” she says.
While technology plays an increasingly larger focus in security efforts, it must go hand in hand with the training of staff. “You can move to technology all you want, but the people behind it are critical,” stresses Kruger. “We put a high priority and premium on training. It is very important to look at the training we give the persons behind the equipment. We move from what we are doing to why we are doing things in a certain way.”
Regulatory bodies require a certain level of security training, but it is also a matter of raising awareness and quality as well as giving employees the best opportunity to be prepared, she continues.
For US forwarders, security training became a matter of some urgency last year when the TSA stopped providing it. The agency’s withdrawal from training did not cause any problems, though. Fried notes that several private companies stepped into the breach.
The AfA teamed up with GISTnet, which offers a broad array of internet or intranet-based courses on international trade and logistics, including a range of courses on security.
Most AfA members have all their employees take the basic course, reports Fried. “It’s easier. Everyone with unescorted access to secure areas has to be trained. If the receptionist goes to the vending machine in the warehouse to get something to drink, that’s going into a secure area,” he explains.
While the association has partnered with GISTnet, Fried readily recommends other training providers to forwarders looking for security training. “We refer people to as many programme options as possible. A particular provider may not work for everybody,” he says, adding that IATA has been running a training programme for years.
Afa’s choice of GISTnet reflects the prevalence of online courses as the preferred medium of instruction. A lot of currently available courses are online, whereas interest in classroom instruction seems to be on the wane.
On the provider side, the popularity of online training has prompted firms that offer online services targeting the logistics sector to add security training modules to their line-up. Fried has praise for Veroot, a vendor management platform that offers a TSA compliance package which includes several training modules.
Kruger sees merit in the online avenue but cautions that it should not be the sole medium of training. Menzies uses a blend of online and classroom instruction as well as video technology and on-the-job instruction to make sure people can apply what they learned in a lesson. In addition, the company disseminates lessons from reported incidents around its network.
“We have a very blended approach to training,” Kruger says.
She stresses the interactive element to engage employees. “People shouldn’t just go through a presentation and do a test at the end. Some may not pay attention to the instruction and just try as many times as necessary to pass,” she concludes.