This post is by a new visiting writer, Gary Martin, Avsec Training Manager at G4S SECURE SOLUTIONS in IRAQ. I am grateful to Gary for adding the security perspective to the Lund University School of Aviation blog. We are always welcoming fellow aviation professionals to post on the blog and to add perspective, new information and sharing of practice in the industry.
This article follows up from a comment I made to a post that my good friend and ex-colleague Nicklas Dahlstrom had written about air cargo (link) and the important role that it played during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my comment I highlighted the fact that air cargo is viewed as the weakest link within aviation security and that it was being exploited by drug smugglers. They would facilitate their illicit trade in moving narcotics through borders with limited checks as they were in shipments of COVID-19 vaccinations and or PPE (mask, gloves etc) which were urgently required in many countries around the world.
I went on to say that it could have been very easy for these narcotics and other illegal contraband, to be replaced with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and therefore bring the aircraft down, potentially over a heavily populated city. Can you imagine the devastation not just to the city below but to the entire cargo network, more especially during a pandemic when cargo was so critical in moving PPE and medical supplies. With passenger traffic dropping 63% during the first 10 months of 2020, cargo saw a relatively smaller reduction of 11%, with some airlines even choosing to use passenger aircraft as cargo due to the high demand.
Let’s go back before the pandemic and look at air cargo and the view that it was and possibly still is the weakest link. With advances in passenger screening after incidents such as with Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber” and Umar Farook, the “Underpants Bomber”, and the 2006 liquid bomb plot, there were various pieces of equipment, processes and procedures that were introduced to combat these new and emerging threats from the terrorist.
It wasn’t really until October 2010 and what has now become known as the cargo bomb plot that emphasis really switched to the security measures that were in place for air cargo. Two packages were loaded onto a UPS and FedEx cargo aircraft. The cargo itself were printer toner cartridges addressed to synagogues in Chicago originating from Yemen. That in itself should have been an immediate red flag. Ship printer cartridges from Yemen to Chicago. Now we all know that Yemen is the central hub for printer cartridges, right? Both packages had been on several passenger aircraft as part of their trip to Chicago. One was eventually detected at East Midlands Airport, after around 10 hours and several conversations with Saudi and Dubai authorities who had already found the other device in Dubai.
After this event, legislation had to change, and it did. Europe introduced ACC3 which was designed to improve screeing of cargo from a third country airport flying into the EU. There were also other changes to the screening of cargo, with the introduction of the use of dogs for detecting explosives and vapour detection technology. The whole supply chain was revamped, with known consignors and regulated cargo agents having more stringent security controls in place. Cargo screening is now finally catching up to the same level as passenger screening, there may still be a bit to go, but it is certainly going in the right direction.
According to IATA, airlines transport over 52 million metric tons of goods per year, representing more than 35% of global trade by value but less than 1% of world trade by volume. That is equivalent to $6.8 trillion worth of goods annually, or $18.6 billion worth of goods every day. As you can see, cargo is a very lucrative business and one where security controls must be as tight and secure as they possibly can be, even more so in the current climate when the transportation of pharmaceutical cargo is especially important for us all.