AnalysisLarge air cargo companies lobby for regulation of air cargo security measures

Published 23 January 2006

We have reported several times on the new emphasis Kip Hawley urged at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on explosive detection, and a move away from a preoccupation with scissors and box cutters. Part of the growing awareness of what explosives can do if loaded onto a plane is the awareness of the dangers that cargo planes — or passenger/cargo combination planes — pose. There were some security measures adopted in haste after 9/11, but the technology was not really there to do much about scanning cargo. This is now changing as new technologies emerge which offer quicker and much more accurate scanning of baggage. Thus, it is not surprising that various international aviation bodies are now reconsidering the post-9/11 air cargo regulations.

The unfortunate thing is that large companies — among them FedEx and UPS — are now engaged in a massive lobbying effort on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere against any further regulations of their all-cargo operations by EU or IATA. Moreover, these large companies use the free-market mantra of allowing them to police themselves as far as security measures go.

This well-oiled and well-heeled lobbying campaign should be resisted. As the chemical industry in the United States proves every day, and as the airline industry proved until 9/11, self-regulation by an industry means no regulation at all. This may help the companies’ bottom line, but it puts all of us at an unacceptable risk. When an industry uses words such as “industry-developed” and “voluntary” to describe the security measures it suggests its members follow, we may as well translate these words into what they really mean: “meaningless” or “laughable” or “farcical.” The U.S. chemistry industry uses these words to describe the security measures it suggests to its members, and the air cargo industry now uses the same words to describe what it offers as an alternative to government regulations of cargo security.

We note that some in the air cargo industry agree. In Frankfurt, Germany, Harald Zielinski, the head of security of Lufthansa Cargo sees danger ahead if some conclusions which were indicated at a recent IATA cargo security meeting with top industry people in Geneva are left to stand. As the European Union and the rest of the world are moving to implement even stricter air cargo security procedures for the passenger/cargo combination business, an uneven and unexplained policy which would allow all-cargo carriers relief from some basic fundamentals of screening personnel and other procedures could be enacted. Zielinski believes that air cargo would, as a result, be dangerously exposed:

The plans currently under discussion do not take into consideration that a terrorist could take control of a freighter aircraft and use it as a weapon. The use of a freighter aircraft in a terrorist incident would be catastrophic especially if the event took place over a populated area. The negative effect would be dramatically enhanced by using a freighter loaded with the right mixture of dangerous goods as a dirty bomb. While there are plenty of regulations on the table that have and will further tighten procedures for the passenger/cargo combination business there is little consideration being afforded the operating crew or attendants onboard all-cargo aircraft. Put another way, in an atmosphere of enlightened total security it cannot be up to a company alone to assure the safety and protection of its employees who transport and handle freight. What is needed is enlightened re-regulation of security procedures that is the result of a wide ranging independent study of the current situation.

These are the key words: “in an atmosphere of enlightened total security it cannot be up to a company alone to assure the safety and protection.” This is a principle that should be followed when dealing with the chemical industry, air cargo industry, and any other industry: In an atmosphere of an enlightened total security, it cannot be up to a company — or an industry — to assure the safety and protection of its employees and the rest of us. The stakes are too high.

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