Air Cargo Screening: ISF for Air Freight?

At a recent meeting of the COAC (a private sector committee which advises Customs and Border Protection) a plan expanding on advanced cargo screening for air cargo was put forth and it’s been quite the topic of conversation.

Rewind to October, 2010, when this happened. The immediate reaction in the wake of it was that TSA had to put it into high gear to start screening all air cargo on passenger aircraft, both domestic, outbound and inbound. While the first two are easy to control since they are under the agency’s jurisdiction, the latter is not. It hinges on creating strategic partnerships with the aviation-regulating agencies in every country that flies to the USA and identifying both screening technology protocols and program requirements that are in harmony with those of the TSA.

Understanding those limitations, the government (since this involves not just TSA but Customs as well) came together with the air carriers and forwarders and integrators to try and kick around best practices for both near-term rapid response security as well as longer term and more in depth security.

What came forth was the idea for a pilot whereby starting with shipments through integrators, their air waybill data would be fed to Customs to be run through their targeting systems before loading. Success with this has caused a widening of the pilot to regular air cargo, starting with key origin or transshipment points throughout the Middle East.

The contentious issue being wrestled with right now is identifying who is responsible for providing this information. Is it the forwarder who knows the commercial shipper and consignee? Is in the airline who has received manifest information from the freight forwarder? Then who sends it to Customs; the forwarder, the airline or both? Who gets notified in the event cargo cannot be loaded? How soon must it be submitted? How do the forwarders submit it to Customs and how are the replies sent? And ultimately, if there is wrong information submitted and something happens, what is the legal means by which the government can reach back to the entity that provided the false information? The airlines are readily within reach; foreign air freight forwarders are not.

There is a meeting in Chicago the second week of February involving all the stakeholders to both flush out details of the proposed pilot as well as offer feedback. The great thing about having something not mandated by regulations is that whereas the agencies would normally develop the regulations behind closed doors and then mandate a comment period, this is a collaborative effort to get it right first and not have to lose time through a comment and response period.

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