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A holistic approach to Air Cargo Security
James Kelly, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association investigates how the aviation sector is responding to ever-evolving security challenges
Surprisingly, prior to 9/11, only ten per cent of passenger luggage checked into US airports was screened for bombs and explosives. Ten years later, we’ve all become accustomed to removing our shoes and limiting the amount of liquid we carry as we pass through airport security. But what of the cargo that often accompanies us on our journeys? Is this, too, subject to the same rigorous security checks?
Passenger and cargo planes
In the UK, around 60 per cent of air freight is carried in passenger planes, with the rest transported on specialist cargo planes. Whilst passenger baggage is subject to inspection by x-ray, only a small amount of air cargo is checked in the same way. In addition, the variation of cargo security rules from country to country can create significant variation in the checks that have been carried out on cargo originating from outside the UK.
Airlines themselves are obliged to meet their own government’s regulations, but some airlines go beyond these, including British Airways, which screens all air cargo travelling on its passenger planes. Courier firm, TNT, also claims to x-ray all packages that pass through its UK depots. Despite this thorough approach, the fast‑moving nature of air cargo, as well as its diversity (the majority of air cargo is made up of an eclectic mix of high-value electronics, engineering and machine parts, pharmaceuticals, fruit and vegetables, but can also include scrap metal and cars) means that thorough scanning of every item simply isn’t possible.
With that in mind, the security of the airport as a whole must be a primary consideration to avoid compromising the security of the cargo often stored within large airport compounds in preparation for dispatch. British Security Industry Association (BSIA) members have a growing portfolio of implementing high‑security solutions at airports around the world, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Cork as well as transport hubs further afield, such as Vancouver and Hong Kong.
An eye on personnel
Monitoring the passage of personnel in and around an airport site is a critical element in ensuring the security of freight and cargo, when it is stored in compounds awaiting loading. During the development of Heathrow’s newest Terminal 5, it was immediately recognised that the site required a proven, fully integrated IP solution that would not only provide 24/7 critical security but would also aid in the efficient flow of 30 million passengers a year. In this example, the BSIA member company’s powerful and fully-integrated system is the industry’s only airport specific access control system and can be customised to meet the unique and ever changing needs of airports over time. The flexibility and high quality offered by the BSIA member was a key factor in its suitability for T5, in particular the facility for integration of the access control system with other security elements, including CCTV.
A Holistic approach
A holistic approach to airport security, based on risk profiles and international best practice, is also at the heart of the UK Government’s plans to modernise the regulatory regime for airport security to bring it into line with better regulation principles, promote innovation and efficiency, while ensuring the best possible passenger experience. In 2011, the Government consulted on its proposals to achieve such modernisation through what it terms as an outcome‑focused, risk-based approach (OFRB).
This approach enables each responsible organisation to develop its own security management system, building on international risk management best practice. Responses to the consultation – published in the Government’s consultation response in 2012 – revealed that aviation industry stakeholders and interested organisations agreed that the proposed solution was appropriate for aviation security, with respondents particularly welcoming the flexibility it enables for each responsible organisation to develop its own security management system building on international risk management best practice.
On publication of the results of this consultation, the Government set out its plan to roll out the security management system approach over the next three to five years, starting with a pilot programme beginning at London City Airport.
Recognising that the full benefits of OFRB – in particular a high degree of flexibility for operators in the design of security processes – will require changes to European legislation, the UK Government has recognised the need to use the pilot schemes to build the evidence base necessary to engage with European legislators to make the case for change.
In the meantime, with security remaining at the top of the agenda for airport operators and freight companies around the world, the sharing of best practice and continued technological innovation are at the heart of ensuring that this fast-moving, challenging area of the global transport network remains as safe and secure as possible.