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Cargo-screening deadline approaching for airports

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

To meet a mandate from Congress that airports and airlines begin screening 100 percent of the air cargo they handle by Aug. 1, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials say they created a system for getting that job done.

TSA's Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), certifies cargo-screening facilities in the United States. They, in turn, handle the screening of all cargo being transported on passenger aircraft, prior to its arrival at airports, such as Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson International.

In addition, the program requires that airlines ensure that all cargo is screened in their facility, or a CCSP-participating facility, TSA officials said. Congress issued the mandate in 2007, following recommendations that came out of reviews of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

"This all stems from the 9/11 Act passed in August of 2007, which required the industry [airlines], or TSA, to ensure that 100 percent of cargo got screened by Aug. 1, of this year," said Douglas Brittin, general manager for Air Cargo Transportation Sector Network Management, for TSA.

"So, we are now two weeks of that date ...TSA fully intends that industry will fully meet that mandate, and essentially, on Aug.1, if a cargo is not screened, it will not fly on that aircraft."

Thomas Puglisi, vice president of air freight operations for Kuehne + Nagel, Inc. -- a freight-forwarding company in Forest Park that is certified by the TSA to conduct screenings -- said CCSP is basically applying the same security requirements that passenger baggage already had, to cargo.

Brittin said TSA has met a variety of milestones to prepare the industry for this new screening requirement, and getting to the 100-percent requirement has been done in steps.

In October 2008, officials said, the mandate was placed on cargo on narrow-body and single-aisle aircraft, which make up more than 95 percent of domestic flights, and they transport more than 85 percent of U.S. passengers. Then, in February 2009, 50 percent of cargo traveling on larger, passenger aircraft had to be screened. Next, in May of 2010, TSA required the industry to screen 75 percent of all cargo being delivered on passenger aircraft, and the next step will be meeting the full, 100-percent screening requirement by Aug. 1.

Puglisi said that freight-forwarding facilities, such as Kuehne + Nagel, handle a variety of cargo from different types of industries, including the pharmaceutical, health-care and automotive industries. In addition, the facility receives items for airlines, from catering businesses.

The facility uses the technology of such equipment as Explosive Trace Detection devices, and Rapiscan 632 Dual View, a special, x-ray machine, according to Brittin.

Brittin said, a certified freight-forwarding facility is an intermediate location point for air cargo. It is delivered to these facilities by shippers. Once the items arrive, they are consolidated and screened, before they arrive at the airport.

If cargo is not screened in time for its designated flight, airlines won't delay flights, because "the passengers are their primary condition," said Brittin.

When asked why TSA, itself, is not responsible for screening 100 percent of cargo, Brittin responded, "There was no funding allowed, or allotted [and] appropriated by Congress, for TSA to do that. All they said was get the job done. Our only way to do that was put the burden on industry."

He added that TSA does screen small cargo, at passenger counters, in some airports.

Brittin said that in passenger aircraft, 11 million pounds of cargo is transported, per month, out of Hartsfield-Jackson, and about 280 million pounds of cargo is delivered a month, around the country.

"Atlanta is the seventh-largest city for cargo carried on passenger aircraft, in the U.S.," he said.