Big Security Chill At CNS

Maybe the first thing to do here is click the above address that takes you to a U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) web page that explains what is expected ahead in USA as expansive new security rules and regulations are right around the corner.
Assuming that many in air cargo would not quite get the gravity of mandated security demands, TSA during March and April held meetings about the changes in several American cities.
At CNS Partnership Conference in Palm Beach, Florida USA once again the TSA security road show was in town, this time in front of 450 high line air cargo professionals, entrepreneurs and on the street cargo people.
For some reason, the meeting hall that morning was cold like somebody had decided to make everyone sit up and pay attention by lowering the temperature in the place.
They needn’t have bothered.
Everybody was up for the moment. Driven by being together and really juiced on the subject, attendees en-masse really let TSA have it in spades, telling the agency in no uncertain terms that while supporting security and accepting responsibility for a safer air cargo environment all along the distribution chain, the air cargo industry beset with competition, fuel costs, financial uncertainty and even over the top intrusion from US DOJ and EEU investigators, does not like the TSA presentation one bit.
In case the TSA had not realized it and whether they cared or not, many CNS Partners, as one attendee put it are: “Frustrated and mad as hell that TSA seems to want to dump all responsibility for compliance to a sweeping and outrageously expensive new technology on the doorstep of the industry.”
Worth noting is that here was an air cargo industry at a conference the way it ought to be.
You sometimes think as you look around the room full of people like this that maybe nothing will really happen or change; that people will listen, maybe take some notes, even talk a little amongst themselves, have a coffee break and come back for some more of the same before lunch or cocktails.
This session was different.
As the TSA guy rattled on, a collective gasp rose up in the room like everybody was sucking in the icebox air to blow the poor TSA suit off the stage.
The TSA/air cargo encounter at CNS last week was a great moment in air cargo trade shows and worth the trip from anywhere to be part of the discussion.
Where TSA may have been able to insist and cajole and poke people in smaller groups at the aforementioned road show venues, here at CNS were top USA and some other world air cargo leaders who let the presenter Tom Friedman know in one felled swoop that air cargo thinks the TSA plan is flawed to the point of being unrealistic and unworkable.
Words flew fast and furious:
“The TSA and USA government is generating this predicament.
“That TSA “Call To Action” by Ed Kelly who went “missing in action” at the CNS Conference left the “poor soul” subordinate Tom Friedman to convey the bad news which was unfortunate because we wanted to tell Ed what we think.”
Mr. Friedman offered an overview of what the TSA has implemented thus far (educational and test sites at several airports around USA).
Mr. Friedman then ended his presentation saying something to the effect:
“So that is what the U.S. Congress has mandated, phase one cargo screening must be met by industry compliance at a 50% level by February 2009 and phase two or the final phase of 100% compliance by August 2010.
“We pass it to you all for action and to take care of meeting these requirements.”
After those words the place just went nuts.
“I have never seen such a group of executive professionals blurt out their feelings that vigorously at what they just heard,” was one comment.
“Plenty of well known Anglo Saxon words of disgust and derision,” was another.
Here are some other reactions we gathered.
“The government is not funding this program CCSP, other than education meetings on the topic.”
“The air cargo industry although has not defined who will have to bear the costs and where and how.
“That’s just crazy!”
“So what TSA is saying is we have this problem and mandated law so you guys go spend whatever it takes and fix it?”
“The screening equipment that needs to be TSA certified is not off the shelf, in fact systems are still under review as we speak.
“But no timelines are given as to when and who gets the approval.”
“Suffice to say that there are perhaps in excess of 70 pieces of scanning equipment submissions with the TSA for review.
“But the TSA review team charged with evaluating security equipment that might find widespread use in air cargo, we understand includes only 3-4 persons.
“How will they ever be able to conclude their tests to approve an accepted, effective cost efficient system that can then be built and put into use in such a short period of time?”
“The cost range of the scanning equipment under review is from $35K through $1.2M.
“Who will pay those costs and accept the ownership in the supply chain to meet U.S. Congress mandates for screening— will it be shipper, trucker, forwarder, trucker, GSA handlers or airline?”
Worth noting is that TSA during the CNS Q & A continued it’s “not my problem – you go figure it” line of reason that further infuriated the gathering.
Representatives from both the NCBFAA and AFFA got a big ovation at CNS for underlining the tremendous costs involved, and how unrealistic, politically-driven security compliance demands threaten to wipe out medium and small freight forwarder companies in air cargo altogether.
“How could the U.S. Government dump a huge international security problem on the air cargo industry?” was the reaction as voices were raised in approval of that comment around the room.
One forwarder put it this way:
“Security like fuel seems to be a runaway cost.
“In UK as example, Cathay Pacific Cargo is offering free transportation on their Monday freighter service to DXB and HKG ex LHR as long as forwarder pays the (fuel) FSC and (security) SSC.
“Elsewhere during May both of those costs are continuing their never ending upward spiral.”
In an industry where often it is hoped and even said that the best is yet to come, increasingly now for a host of reasons many fear the worst.
But in affording a venue for this dialogue CNS delivered on its promise.
Whatever the outcome here, “The Partnership,” worked.

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