Air cargo security, an area of the supply chain that is sometimes taken for granted, is one of the most critical areas to our national security and the industries that rely on it. When we hear the phrase “securing the supply chain,” people usually only think about this in terms of the ability for specific industries to obtain the commodities they need. In the air cargo industry, “securing the supply chain” entails ensuring the safety and security of the entire lifecycle of a shipment, the aircraft and employees working throughout the network to transport the shipments. The security of the air cargo supply chain is an essential component to safeguarding the sustainability of the supply chain itself.
U.S. airlines transport more than 65,000 tons of goods daily, and the majority of items shipped are high-value, time-sensitive or of life-saving importance. Among the items U.S. airlines ship are high-value electronics, fresh food and flowers and live animals.
The air cargo supply chain is the primary artery not just to the U.S. economy, but the global economy. The world relies on air cargo to be the primary conduit in times of emergencies and natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes when time is of the essence. During the pandemic, the air cargo industry played a crucial role in transporting medical supplies, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 vaccines across the U.S. and around the globe.
In addition to recognizing the role air cargo plays in the economy, we must understand the role security plays in air cargo. Securing the air cargo supply chain requires a tremendous amount of coordination across different entities such as shippers, air carriers, airports, indirect air carriers (IACs), certified cargo screening facilities (CCSFs) and Third Party Canine companies (3PK9) in addition to numerous government agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the United States Postal Service (USPS) just to name a few. All these agencies and regulated entities work together to keep the air cargo supply chain flowing in an expeditious manner while ensuring all shipments are safe and secure for transportation by air.
Airlines for America (A4A), the trade association for the leading U.S. passenger and cargo airlines, collaborates with these agencies as well as foreign governments in conjunction with our member airlines to ensure effective cargo security policies and procedures are developed, while also being financially achievable and not adversely affecting the flow of cargo across the supply chain.
One example of this work is A4A’s partnership with the TSA on the implementation of TSA’s Air Cargo Security Roadmap, which outlines the strategic direction toward modernizing, streamlining and further securing the air cargo supply chain. Under this roadmap, the TSA is focused on advancing enhanced and risk-based screening capabilities and advanced targeting capabilities, expanding knowledge and information within the airline industry, enhancing air cargo technology to support security innovation within the supply chain and collaborating with industry to modernize standard security programs and policy processes to meet the demands of today’s air cargo environment.
A4A also supports other programs, such as CBP’s Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT), which is designed to instill security as an integral part of a company’s culture and business model to protect the supply chain from criminal activities such as terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal contraband — another layer to secure the air cargo international supply chain and improve border security. This program is designed to benefit entities that receive CTPAT certification by reducing the number of examinations, providing for front-of-the-line inspections and ensuring shorter wait times to get shipments cleared.
Initiatives such as CTPAT and the TSA Air Cargo Security Roadmap require numerous critical departments of regulated entities be involved. It’s not just a company’s Corporate Security Department that plays a critical role. Other necessary offices include Training, Human Resources, Information Technology, Cyber Security and Operations. You often hear ‘safety is everyone’s responsibility,’ and in the air cargo industry security is everyone’s responsibility as well.
A4A reviews government-mandated security and customs policies and programs and advocates for amendments, as appropriate, to improve their consistency, relevancy, efficiency and effectiveness. A4A plays an important role in facilitating regular communication between agencies and the air carriers. The government and the air cargo industry come together to discuss areas of concern, new ideas for enhanced security and research and development needed to advance screening technology. We also work with our members and regulatory agencies to clarify policy and procedural language to eliminate any interpretation issues. Not only does the elimination of such issues save time, but it also enables companies to develop better training, which ultimately drives better regulatory compliance and more efficient operations.
The importance of air cargo and the security of the supply chain can never be underestimated. It touches the lives of everyone around the world in more ways than people realize. The safety and security of the air cargo supply chain will always be our industry’s top priority. We appreciate our ongoing collaboration with the relevant agencies and look forward to continued partnership as we work together daily to maintain our shared goal of a safe, secure air cargo supply chain.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected].
 Members of the association are Alaska Airlines, Inc.; American Airlines Group, Inc.; Atlas Air, Inc.; Delta Air Lines, Inc., Federal Express Corporation; Hawaiian Airlines; JetBlue Airways Corp.; Southwest Airlines Co.; United Holdings, Inc.; and United Parcel Service Co. Air Canada is an associate member.