Transportation of Cargo on Passenger Aircraft Essay Sample

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This paper provides information into the lack of aviation security with regard to cargo transported on passenger aircraft. Passengers and their luggage traveling on aircraft are subject to screening, security searches and body scanning prior to boarding. However, the cargo loaded may not have been inspected, allowing for potential security vulnerabilities to be exploited. Currently international flights do not receive the same caliber of cargo inspection as domestic flights. There are too many holes in the global supply chain but one area that we need to focus on is cargo security. The TSA has implemented layered security for all flights arriving in the U.S. but foreign countries do not impose such aggressive tactics. Passenger aircraft are used to transport cargo for freight entities like UPS or FedEx as a means to assist with delivery efficiency. Measures must be implemented on an international level that prevents improvised devices from being placed on U.S. bound passenger aircraft. Keywords: Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), Certified Cargo Screening Facilities (CCSF), vulnerabilities

Transportation of Cargo on Passenger Aircraft
Many of us travel by air and undergo long waits in airport ticketing, security, and boarding lines. Instructions are given to passengers on what is permitted to bring and how to pack. Our luggage is x-rayed and sometimes further inspected for suspicious items. However, while our luggage is subject to inspection, the cargo contents onboard may not have been verified. Further concern is the aircraft’s current cargo could have originated from a foreign country that did not inspect the cargo content. Maybe the cargo was processed through a known shipper but that does not guarantee the cargo is safe. In August 2010, a printer bomb plot was discovered aboard a cargo aircraft bound for Chicago. A glaring concern was the bombs had been transported in the belly of a passenger aircraft (Mazzetti, Worth & Lipton, 2010).

How does the U.S. ensure cargo being imported receives appropriate inspections prior to loading on a passenger aircraft, and is there vulnerabilities in the process? Some facts and assumptions provided demonstrate security concerns while maintaining the need to utilize passenger aircraft for cargo movement. Key concerns such as cargo failing to be inspected prior to loading on a passenger aircraft. However, freight companies rely on passenger aircraft to transport cargo to increase delivery efficiency. These concerns have primary stakeholders who have obligations and stakes. Finally, the government has mandated the TSA implement 100% screening of cargo on passenger aircraft. The TSA has established security programs such as, CCSP and CCSF in an attempt to comply. This paper will discuss the feasibility of these programs and offer some recommendations to mitigate vulnerabilities in aviation security.

Facts and Assumptions
When traveling by air, passengers assume that the cargo beneath their feet had been inspected just like their luggage. After reading TSA reports, this author was surprised and concerned that some cargo is never inspected. This problem is significantly increased when aircraft originate from outside the U.S. with cargo onboard. Time Magazine cited a TSA source saying there is approximately, “7.3 billion pounds of cargo transported on U.S. passenger flights annually, about 42% travels on flights arriving on American soil from foreign destinations” (Calabresi, 2010). Since there are not enough TSA agents assigned internationally, the U.S. uses foreign inspectors or trusted agents at international airports. A story reported by the LA Times stated the TSA inspects incoming foreign packages using a network of government-certified private screeners and companies as well as its own inspectors at about 18 airports around the country. The TSA stated that as of August 2010, about 38% of cargo coming into the U.S. was not being screened (Bennett, 2010).

Some cargo avoids being screened because it processes through a trusted agent or known shipper. If the TSA does not inspect cargo processed through a trusted agent, then a huge vulnerability for aviation security is created. In May 2011, Unisys published a semi-annual survey of consumer opinion on multiple dimensions of security. The results showed 56 % of Americans saw cargo transported by air, sea, or land as very vulnerable to malicious tampering or terrorist attack (Vinsik, 2011). Currently, there are approximately 197 countries with flights to the United States. According to the TSA, they have signed agreements with only three, with another 20 in the pipeline. Though it seems like a small number, it actually accounts for about 80% of the air cargo to the United States (Ahlers, 2011).

Major overriding issues
When looking at countries who import to the U.S., it is important to identify the issues and try to close the loop on security vulnerabilities. A primary concern is the lack of ability to screen all inbound cargo. According to the TSA, there is approximately 50,000 tons of air cargo transported daily. Of that, about one quarter is transported on domestic passenger aircraft (Air Cargo, n.d.). The majority of threats to the aviation industry come from cargo shipped from a foreign country. Countries considered friendly such as Germany, or Canada, do not participate in cargo security as much as the U.S. would like. The U.S. has little control over processes outside our borders. Since August 2010, U.S. aviation officials have been pressing the European Union to require X-raying every package placed on passenger planes. To date, the U.S. has met resistance because of the costs and logistics involved in screening such a large amount of cargo. According to Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, X-ray machines are not an effective tool to screen bulk cargo because of the large size and number of the items that need to be inspected (Kass, & Yamanouchi, 2010).

Another concern to aviation security is cargo tracking and who handles the cargo. Packages have multiple points that must be analyzed, such as point of origin, shipper’s name, and specific contents. As a piece of cargo moves along the supply chain, visibility is reduced, resulting in cargo becoming susceptible to tampering (Vinsik, 2011). All it takes is for one person to have the right connection and an improvised explosive device can make it on a plane. The air cargo system’s vulnerabilities have been in question for years. The Center for American Progress, released a report in 2007 on air cargo security stating, “Placing a bomb in a commercial shipment via global supply chains is an obvious and feasible means to bring down a U.S. airliner without having to board it or even enter the United States” (Juul, 2010). This is why the U.S. must have a program in place to ensure only verified safe cargo is placed on passenger aircraft. There are vulnerabilities that can be identified but first it is important to acknowledge the stakeholders and what is at stake. Stakeholders

There are many entities involved in the process of aviation security but the primary stakeholder would be the TSA, charged with ensuring cargo and passenger safety. The TSA has many layers of security in place for national air travel but they must extend the circle of safety into the international arena. The TSA needs to take a stronger position on countries that export to the U.S. If they do not provide adequate aviation security then they run the risk of losing the U.S. public’s trust. Once travelers begin to fear traveling by air the aviation industry would potentially experience a financial decline. The aviation industries only option would be to stop transporting cargo on the aircraft. This option would drive up costs for the freight companies, which will inevitably be passed on to the consumer. Therefore, it is imperative that the TSA be proactive with aviation security and cargo screening.

As previously stated, global freight companies have a lot at stake. If we stop shipping cargo on passenger aircraft then freight companies like FedEx and UPS will be forced to raise cost to the consumer and simultaneously reduce their effectiveness to deliver anywhere on-time. The final stake is our own safety, especially if security vulnerabilities are not corrected and cargo goes uninspected on passenger aircraft. If unknown cargo continues to be placed on passenger aircraft then it is just a matter of time until we experience another catastrophic event. The final and most important stakeholder in aviation security is the U.S. public who expect a safe flight, and the consumers who expect products to be at a destination on time. If a cargo related mishap occurs on a passenger aircraft the result is usually significant damage to the aircraft or a catastrophic failure and death for those onboard. If passenger aircraft continue to transport cargo then we must ensure all cargo is inspected prior to entering the U.S. All of the stakeholders share one commonality and that is cost. Solutions

Within the United States, the TSA provides a layered security approach that utilizes different tactics and techniques to identify potential threats. The TSA developed the CCSP as a solution to help industry reach the 100% screening mandate. The program enables freight forwarders and shippers to pre-screen cargo prior to arrival at the airport. Most CCSP shipper participants have been able to quickly incorporate physical screening into their shipping process at a small cost to their operation (Certified Cargo, n.d.). Currently, the TSA uses the CCSP to certify cargo-screening facilities located throughout the United States.

This program screens cargo prior to loading onto a passenger aircraft. This feasible program should be implemented at international airports. Its intent is to maintain positive custody of cargo, which would result in a positive measure of security while ensuring the flow of aircraft is not effected (Certified Cargo, n.d.). Another solution available is the CCSF program. These facilities must carry out a TSA approved security program that ensures and maintains a strict chain of custody of cargo. The cargo is segregated and secured from the time it is screened until it is placed on the aircraft (Air Cargo, n.d.). Whatever the solution, the U.S. needs to find a way to employ them at the international level. Recommendations

The congressional mandate to screen 100% of air cargo must be complied with as a way to improve aviation and passenger security. The government mandated the TSA inspect 100% of cargo by 2011 but the deadline will not be met. In an attempt to comply with the mandate, the TSA has implemented new security measures for all air cargo transported on passenger aircraft. The implemented procedures will ensure that no cargo is exempt from security screening and add another layer of security by establishing screening requirements for indirect air carriers. One concern with the congressional mandate is the cost of the program and the time it would take to look at everything. In order to inspect all cargo, it would require multiple machines with various degrees of technology to handle all types, sizes and protect against all the types of threats (Air Cargo, n.d.). It is difficult to justify the cost of multiple machines when the government is proposing steep budget cuts and companies are being forced to halt expensive research and development of screening technology. All cargo entering the U.S. must be screened to ensure passenger safety, and cost in this area should not be affected by budget cuts (Vinsik, 2011). Since aviation is so important to our economy and way of life, we should do everything in our power to ensure its security and passenger safety Conclusion

In the United States, we have the luxury of traveling from coast to coast in a matter of hours. We experience delays at the airport due to TSA screening and security checks but the cargo already onboard may not have been inspected. This concern is elevated when cargo originated from a foreign country. Currently an effective cargo-screening program does not exist that guarantees cargo exported to the U.S. receives appropriate inspections. Some cargo avoids being screened altogether because it is processed through a trusted agent or known shipper, thus creating security vulnerabilities. There is so much cargo processing through the global supply chain and it requires constant surveillance to ensure there is no exploitable vulnerability.

The major stakeholders in aviation security have different reasons for a proactive aviation security program. While the TSA is charged with aircraft and passenger security, the global freight industry relies on passenger aircraft to assist with package transportation. While this process is a necessity for the freight industry, cargo must be monitored to protect the passengers onboard against potentially exploited security vulnerabilities. The TSA developed the CCSP and CCSF as a solution to help industry reach a 100% screening mandate to ensure passenger safety (Certified Cargo, n.d.). Whatever the solution, the U.S. needs to find a way to employ them at an international level, to decrease security vulnerabilities and increase passenger safety.


Ahlers, M. (2011, October 13). TSA to miss goal to inspect all cargo on international flights. CNN, Featured Articles from CNN. Retrieved from Bennett, B. (2010, October 30). UPS Screening Packages: U.S. steps up screening as debate flares about cargo security. Los Angeles Times, Featured articles from The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from Calabresi, M. (2010, November 02). The weak spot in air security: Cargo

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