Air Freight Security Must Get Smarter

 - November 12, 2010, 8:53 AM
Authorities discovered one of two explosive devices on October 29 at the FedEx air freight facility in Dubai. The other was found on a UPS aircraft at East Midlands Airport in the UK. (Copyright Airbus)

The air freight industry needs to quickly adopt the more sophisticated and holistic approaches to security already introduced in the maritime cargo sector, according to Neil Fisher, vice president of Global Security Solutions with IT group Unisys. He told AIN that priority must be given to accelerating the introduction of new technology that could screen cargo for threats such as the PETN-based explosives found on October 29 on board a UPS aircraft at the UK’s East Midlands Airport and at the FedEx facility in Dubai. He also advocated that freight forwarders and carriers need to be required to implement an integrated approach to controlling potentially weak links in the delivery process.

“Our experience at Unisys is that there is a lot of vulnerability in the value chain for air cargo,” he commented. “For example, at [London] Heathrow [air freight companies] are more concerned about spot checks by Transec (the UK’s transportation security agency) stopping operations at busy times than they are about Al Qaida.”

Fisher, who has a background in British military counter-terrorist operations, argued that the “draconian measures” it took to get the maritime sector to push through a more sophisticated approach now need to be applied to air freight. He said that the International Air Transport Association’s secure freight initiative could provide the foundation for improvements and that more advanced IT could “join up the dots.” According to Unisys, it can adapt the systems it has developed to manage the flow of freight to integrate new security measures so that unacceptable delays are avoided. “If you couple deep-dive mining for data [about packages] with thorough on-ground screening, you would have a tight system,” claimed Fisher.

IATA has also called for faster introduction of new screening technology. The initial government response to the cargo bomb plot has been to shut down all air freight coming out of Yemen and Somalia.