Summer 2023

The need to stay ahead in air cargo security

The need to stay ahead in air cargo security

Advanced security technology – including increasingly sophisticated and automated threat-detection screening capabilities – can help air freight operators satisfy new regulatory requirements and streamline operations and processes, says Astrophysics Inc.’s Donald Pyne

Cooling markets
On the heels of major disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic, breakdowns in international supply chains, and the war in Ukraine, the global air cargo industry entered a period of market correction in 2022. After an 8% drop last year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects a shallower 4% decline in total cargo volume throughout 2023. Even so, the admittedly lower revenues should remain substantially higher than pre-pandemic levels. This moderate slowdown will present consumers with increased opportunity as freight forwarders compete for their shares of the remaining demand. Air cargo carriers looking to sustain profits from a more limited supply of available business must turn to increasing service quality and operational efficiency. Security is a crucial aspect of that endeavor.

Persisting threats
While terrorist attacks are the most sensational, customs fraud and smuggling (of drugs, weapons, luxuries, or even people) are significantly more common. Interpol reported seizing more than $700 million worth of drugs and associated contraband from around the globe in a single operation in 2022. Among the examples in early 2023, authorities in Qatar in February discovered 450+ narcotic pills concealed in a shipment of candies. And in March 2023, Australian Border Force arrested a man who attempted concealing cocaine in a shipment of water pumps. Smuggling is unlikely to stop anytime soon, so government agencies must shoulder the burden of finding ways to counter it. In many cases, they opt for saddling freight forwarders and other commercial logistics operators and couriers with some of that responsibility.

Stricter standards
With agencies like the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) requiring that 100% of cargo transported on passenger aircraft undergo security screening for explosives and other threats, screening obligations are nothing new to the air cargo sphere. However, as threats and concealment methods evolve, stricter regulatory requirements march on in lock-step with advancing technologies to stay ahead. 2023 will see jurisdictions like the European Union (EU), United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK), and Canada implementing the next phases of their local cargo screening plans. TSA’s 2021 air cargo security roadmap is also reaching its end-stages, with objectives like risk data-based screening, enhanced information sharing, and technology upgrades featuring implementation targets spanning 2022-2024. As screening obligations intensify, freight forwarders and other air logistics stakeholders must find ways to sustain competitive delivery times without compromising security.

Screening innovation
As with any evolving demand, adaptation and innovation are never far behind. For example, the Astrophysics Multi-View CT™ 450 kV shortens per-pallet screening times by scanning whole pallets without needing to break-bulk. With 35 distinct X-ray views and a detailed 3D CT model, analysts can find threats hidden practically anywhere in a pallet. Other novel approaches – within Astrophysics products and in the wider industry – include enhanced automatic detection, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based detection of Lithium-ion batteries, which can otherwise be especially dangerous aboard airplanes. These types of solutions both strengthen overall security and streamline screening processes to save time and money getting important goods from origin to destination.

Applying new technology
In the perpetual arms race between legal authorities and criminal elements, it pays to stay ahead of the curve. Earlier access to advanced technology can ensure freight forwarders are well-positioned to satisfy new regulatory requirements before they take effect, cement operator experience with modified procedures and protocols, and of course yields practical benefits applicable to the specific technology. With greater familiarity comes higher efficiency, and in turn improved reliability. In a slowing market, fast and reliable air freight and logistics operators will find themselves with a strong competitive edge.