TSA Chief: Air Security Cannot Impede Economic Recovery

There will still be increases because of recent attempts to plant bombs on international passenger aircraft.
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There will still be increases because of recent attempts to plant bombs on international passenger aircraft.

While there will be some increases in airline security because of the recent attempt to plant bombs disguised as cargo on international passenger aircraft, security measures cannot impede the economic recovery fueled by global trade, says a top level U.S. official and an industry stakeholder.

While both airline passengers and shipping companies can expect increased security screening because of the recent foiled bomb plots, shippers will likely not have to screen every item being transported, say air security experts. The explosive devices—discovered Oct. 29—originated in Yemen and were disguised as printer cartridges being shipped to the United States, but were likely going to detonate onboard the aircraft, according to air security experts. Nonetheless, shippers will likely not have to screen every item being transported, the experts said.

The cargo bombs became the latest terrorist attack to have been averted; recent others include an attempt to detonate explosives hidden in an aircraft passenger’s underwear; an undetonated car bomb in Times Square; and a plan to detonate explosive devices at Metro stations located in Arlington, Va. The bombs had slipped past cargo screening devices and were intercepted because of information supplied by Saudi Arabian intelligence, and at least one explosive device might have been 17 minutes from detonation at the time it was discovered, say published reports.

Nonetheless, John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has said, the air-cargo threat poised by terrorists cannot be allowed to impede the global economic recovery. “We (security agencies) have a delicate balance to strike. The flow of global commerce is key to economic recovery. Security cannot bring business to a standstill,” Pistole told attendees of an aviation and security conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

However, even prior to the attempted bombing, air-cargo security has been a high priority with U.S.-security agencies, Pistole said. “100 percent of identified high-risk cargo on inbound passenger planes was being screened,” he said. “Further, all cargo flying to the U.S. on passenger or all-cargo planes is held to TSA security standards that include specific requirements covering how facilities and cargo is accessed, the vetting of personnel with access to cargo, employee training and cargo-screening procedures. All international inbound aircraft carrying cargo must provide cargo manifest information to our partners at Customs and Border Protection prior to arrival on long-haul flights and at wheels-up on flights from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, for additional screening upon arrival in the U.S.”

In addition, Giovanni Bisignani, director-general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said while cargo security has been placed under scrutiny because of the bombing attempt, “airport screening cannot be our first line of defense.” Airport screening “is an effective complement to intelligence and supply chain solutions,” but “there is no government-certified technology to screen standard size pallets and large items,” he said. “There is some promising technology, but it is taking far too long to move from the laboratory to the airport. We must speed up the process.”

“Airfreight drives the world economy, representing 35 percent of goods traded internationally and “transporting these goods safely, securely and efficiently is critical,” Bisignani said. “The entire supply chain, from manufacturer to airport, has a responsibility for secure shipments. The supply chain approach must be driven by government and industry cooperation on investment, processes, technology, and risk assessment.”