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Not for the first time, the US authorities have abruptly flipped a switch ushering in new air cargo security requirements, but the sudden change looks unlikely to disrupt freight flows.
However, there appears to be some confusion.
On Monday, the US Transportation Security Agency (TSA) notified air cargo operators that the following day the requirements for the advance submission of manifest data for US-bound shipments were changing.
Carriers had been supposed to file shipment data with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) four hours before landing at a US airport. Under the new regime, they must transmit the data before the cargo is loaded on a US-bound aircraft.
The mandate covers cargo destined for the US and shipments transiting the country.
In 2010, forwarders were dismayed when the TSA gave them two weeks’ notice of an order to screen 75% of all airfreight in the bellies of passenger aircraft taking off from US airports and to screen all bulk-loaded cargo as well as a percentage of ULDs coming into the US.
This time the authorities have justified the sudden implementation of new rules by references to “classified intelligence” that terrorist organisations are looking to exploit vulnerabilities in air cargo security.
CBP stated that the revised timeframe would give it sufficient time to perform risk assessments and prevent a terrorist attack that could happen in mid-air.
“It’s another layer in a multi-layered system; it is probably essential. CBP can stop a shipment before it gets on an airplane,” said Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders’ Association.
“We’ve been expecting this for the past eight years,” he added.
The TSA and CBP have been working on the Air Cargo Advance Security (ACAS) programme since 2010 and have conducted pilot programmes that have involved US and international airlines, integrators and forwarders.
According to operators, the requirement to submit data sooner is not having an impact on processes or cut-off times for express and other urgent cargo.
MNX Global Logistics, which specialises in time-critical shipments for the life sciences and healthcare sector, already transmits the required ACAS data at the time of pick-up, along with routing and master air waybill information, well ahead of take-off.
CEO Paul Martins added: “This is fully automated and requires no front line intervention unless a data error occurs, which is very rare. We have been doing this for years in the pilot programme, so the rule becoming mandatory was a non-event for us.”
A spokesperson for American Airlines Cargo said the carrier had been participating in the programme, “so we will continue with business as usual”.
Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo was also involved in pilot programmes.
“We forward all relevant information to US customs as soon as we receive them,” a spokesman said, adding that the new rule has had no impact on processes and cut-off times.
Likewise, Swiss WorldCargo sees no change, according to a spokesperson. “Swiss WorldCargo began participating in a pilot phase in 2012 and has been fully compliant with all ACAS requirements since 2016, and thus this rule change has no effect on our typical processes. We have, and will continue to, share required shipment data with US authorities ahead of departure,” he commented.
However, there appears to be some confusion about the new regime and which agency to communicate with: TSA or CBP. Mr Fried has been approached by an international carrier seeking advice.
The CBP has signalled that it will not sanction failure to comply immediately, but is going to adopt “a flexible stance to the filing requirement” for a 12-month period.
And while the new mandate is already in effect, it has yet to be officially adopted. The revised regulations constitute the proposed final rule for ACAS. The CBP said it was open to feedback on it until August 12.
Besides changing the window for advance data transmission, the final rule is also bringing in other changes. In addition to the original data set, CBP now also requires the master air waybill number and the flight departure message.
The Airforwarders’ Association is concerned about CBP’s insistence that forwarders which want to file ACAS information need to get a bond first. This goes against the original stance of the CBP welcoming manifest information from everybody, Mr Fried said.