I listened to an informative roundtable courtesy of American Airlines Cargo on the upcoming 100% Air Cargo Screening Mandate, which becomes law on August 1, 2010. All cargo to be shipped on passenger airplanes will need to be screened before it is loaded. The law is to “ensure the safety of those passengers above that cargo,” explained Doug Brittin, general manager, air cargo, Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
We covered this issue last September 2009 in “Pharma Firms Set Up Cargo Screening,” in which senior editor David Vaczek reported on Pfizer’s efforts to get pharma working with the TSA to develop screening procedures. We’ll follow up on that effort.
But judging from the roundtable, pharmaceutical companies have been active in TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP). According to TSA, “the program enables freight forwarders and shippers to pre-screen cargo, avoiding any potential bottlenecks at the airport.”
The good news is that many in “the pharmaceutical industry realized early and went in early to become CCSP facilities,” explained Dave Brooks, president of American Airlines Cargo, during the roundtable. But gaps do remain.
For instance, after August 1, what could happen with shipments that are not pre-screened through a CCSP-certified facility? “We’ll have to screen them,” explained Brooks. Typical methods of screening include x-ray systems, use of explosive trace detection, and physical inspection. But x-ray cannot be used with all pharma shipping containers, like drums, and some radioactive healthcare materials could yield positive explosive trace detection tests, noted roundtable speakers. And physical inspection requires screeners to open packages, which could compromise sensitive pharmaceuticals and break custody chains.
The law also requires piece-level inspection. “If pieces are put on a skid and wrapped and we can see multiple pieces, we are obligated to separate and inspect each piece,” Brittin of TSA says. That means that pallet loads with multiple individual shippers shrink-wrapped onto a skid that are not prescreened will have to be opened and inspected using these methods.
“There are improved screening technologies available, but they require extra steps,” explained Brooks. “That means more time, more equipment, more space, and therefore more cost.”
Unscreened shipments risk departure delays, because airlines will not delay passenger flights waiting for late cargo, Brooks said. “If the freight is not screened and that plane is ready to go, that freight won’t fly,” he explained. And as such shipments wait for screening and perhaps later flights, they risk exposing products to conditions outside specified parameters.
All roundtable speakers agreed that the best option to comply with the law is to pre-screen their products under CCSP certification. “Inspection can happen as the commodity is being packed,” explains Brooks.
Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, agreed. “It is better is the shipper does the screening. It doesn’t mean that we are not ready to do the screening ourselves, but that it is better for shippers to screen as they pack,” he said.
Brooks said that approximately half of the world’s cargo capacity is provided by passenger airplanes, and he does not want to see that business shift to other modes of transportation. “We are hugely motivated to make sure that the dock process goes as smoothly as possible. We are spending a lot of money to be compliant ourselves. Shippers and forwarders that can do this work themselves and present shipments to us as prescreened will have a better experience at the dock.”