The space between vigilance and paranoia

The security of air cargo has lagged behind stringent baggage and passenger security, a massive flaw in the armour of airline security.

80 % of air cargo worldwide lands up on passenger aircraft.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has devised, in consultation with air carriers, forwarding and security organisations and governments, a system of checks, balances, procedures and requirements summarised together in Annexure 17 to the Chicago convention on International Civil Aviation (safeguarding International Civil Aviation against acts of unlawful interference) which is the mechanism devised to enhance air cargo security.

In South Africa the Regulations required to comply with ICAO Annexure 17 have been incorporated into the Civil Aviation Regulations of 1997 under Part 108 of the Regulations by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

The essence of the Regulations is that cargo from a known, and validated, source (consignors) passing through known and validated agents, and certified as such, may be accepted by air carriers as Known Cargo which then requires no further security, apart from random checks. If cargo does not qualify as Known Cargo delays, and the formidable risk of rejection of liability claims in the event of an incident, will be the consequence.

The SACAA Technical Standards, together with the Regulations, forms the foundation upon which the security procedures, measures and training may be formulated and introduced.

The technologies that have been implemented covering the carrying of weapons and other dangerous articles in passenger’s carry on baggage is meaningful and a forceful deterrent against the introduction of explosive and dangerous articles. However, this technology is questionable when applied to air cargo which consists of thousands of different shapes, sizes and differing materials often combining these materials.

It is indisputable that there is no single, technical or other practical, security control applied to air cargo that is infallible and that will not be able to be bypassed by a determined terrorist. ICAO have therefore devised this integrated system that involves all the segments of the supply conduit line from the consignor, or sender, through the hands of the forwarding or courier agent, the air carrier or handling agent, ramp handling agent and those responsible for loading the aircraft. In this way every entity becomes an active participant in air cargo security not only creating a secure conduit but also creating an audit trail which, in itself, is a tactic of deterrence.

Personnel employed at, and along, all stages of the conduit, must all undergo Air Cargo Security Familiarisation Training (and in certain specific cases formal training) as well as background checks including criminal checks. The premises of each of the control entities in the chain must be audited and made secure. Procedures set out in Air Cargo Security manuals, approved by the Civil Aviation Authority, dictate operational procedures.

Cargo having passed through the process becomes Known Cargo.

If Unknown Cargo is presented to a forwarding, courier agent or air carrier it must be made known by applying one, or more, of the security controls that are recommended in the Part 108 Technical Standards.

It is vital, and indeed a moral obligation that all parties involved in the movement of cargo must apply on-going vigilance and co-operation from consignor to aircraft.

Aviation safety is an absolute. It is not the quest for zero defect. It IS zero defect (with acknowledgement to Professor Johann Coetzee). This must be the standard that is applied at all times. Compromise or complacency must not be tolerated. The lives of innocent people could well depend on the quality of participation of all those that are involved in the movement of air cargo.

The Lockerbie disaster required an explosive device the size of a man’s fist to tragically affect the lives of hundreds of people. Binary explosives are the combination of two inert chemicals which, when combined even in small quantities, cause a powerful explosion using a low temperature detonator, these are unlikely to be detected by technical means.

It is almost a foregone conclusion that unless there is on-going and active stimulation of Part 108 measures, this potential complacency will set in. This will be balanced by the forwarding, or courier, agents having to appoint specifically trained Designated Officials who are responsible to the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that the measures are implemented and are on-going. These Designated Officials are also responsible to ensure that the senders of cargo (consignors) implement and continue to apply the Part 108 security measures. The Civil Aviation Inspectorate, formed for this specific purpose, will also play a major role in the on-going vigilance required.

Liability insurance underwriters will certainly take a dim view of non compliance with these measures, which create a real possibility of claims being repudiated, and we should all be aware that claims involving passenger aircraft may well run to hundreds of millions of USD.

The silver lining is that these measures will increase general logistics security and help to deter fraud.

Article by Rob Garbett, Managing Director of Professional Aviation Services.

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