100% international air cargo screening is on hold, for now

November 8, 2011
Pharmaceutical Commerce, Pharmaceutical Commerce - November/December 2011,

Congressmen send a letter to TSA seeking an explanation for the delay

The Transportation Security Administration hasn’t been exactly up-front about it, but, based on statements at an industry conference in October, and carefully worded statements on its website, it appears that the agency will not meet a previous commitment to having 100% screening of all air cargo entering the US by Dec. 31. And since international cargo carriers are now well into their holiday season shipping surge, it’s doubtful that that will change before then.

Cargo screening became a hot-button issue for the US pharma industry a couple years ago, when the first phase of the screening program—packages being carried on domestic passenger jets—went into operation. The industry very quickly presented data to TSA showing that a) pharma manufacturers, through their GMP requirements, had a high level of control on how products were packaged and b) that requiring packages such as cold-chain products to be opened for inspection would wreak havoc with deliveries and product integrity. In response (Pharmaceutical Commerce, Sept/Oct, p. 24), TSA set up a Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP) that allowed manufacturers, or their designated freight handlers, to perform inspections prior to shipments arriving at airport loading ramps.

Cargo screening is now at 100% for domestic air cargo on passenger jets, but the anti-terrorism laws passed post-9/11 called for all cargo to be inspected. A year ago, there was an attempt to bring explosives into the US from Yemen via commercial air freight—and that put the spotlight on TSA’s pace in getting international cargo inspected. However, a primary holdup to this is getting cooperation of air cargo authorities around the world, including situations where air cargo is consolidated at one location, then shipped to another for transport to the US.

TSA has a statement on its website saying that “International inbound air cargo is more secure than it has ever been, with 100 percent of identified high risk cargo being screened,” and alluding to coordination efforts with the World Customs Organization. But that’s not enough for several minority members of the Senate, who asked, in an Oct. 31 letter to TSA, when the delay decision was made, by whom, and what processes and metrics TSA will use to perform this screening.