Better security in air cargo is a competitive advantage
AS innovative new technologies continue to re-shape the future of transport, they will also change how aviation security is managed. To date, most of the attention has been on keeping passengers safe – but increasing numbers of threats mean we now need to focus more than ever on securing air cargo too, writes Adam Brownson (pictured, below right), aviation security expert for innovation and transformation company PA Consulting.
Air cargo is one of the most vulnerable elements in the aviation network.
Recent news stories about contraband smuggling at Taipei Airport, speculation that a Maersk-owned company became embroiled in illegal arms trading between North Korea and Egypt, and even drugs trafficking by staff at London’s Heathrow Airport have all highlighted the spreading global risk.
It means that cargo operators are under increasingly intense pressure from regulators to do more than before to secure their growing freight volumes, as illustrated by the recent implementation in the USA of a new Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) cargo security requirements process. The costs of such compliance, combined with the additional time it takes to complete advance screening, means that airfreight specialists are in danger of losing their speed of delivery USP.
What they may not know is that there are new technologies which can offer revolutionary solutions to tackle some of these key issues. New tools, such as blockchain, AI (artificial intelligence), automation and threat-detection technologies will soon be widely available – with early adopters streaking ahead of the field.
“Security is today’s critical emergency issue”
Although immersion in such technologies will in the not-too-distant future revolutionise both the security and the efficiency of global air cargo transactions, security is today’s critical emergency issue. What can be done to mitigate the threats using what we already have?
The real barrier to adopting even today’s existing technologies lies in the huge variations in how technology is used across the entire global cargo industry.
For example, whilst we have an express parcels industry that has been at the forefront of labelling, barcode scanning and in-line screening technologies, paper documents still play a huge role in cargo handling in many parts of the world.
This inconsistency means that electronic systems fail to integrate with airline cargo management systems, for example, creating problems when they are trying to implement stricter security measures.
However, by applying today’s technology in a smart way, the air cargo industry can substantially help improve security, whilst it waits for the digital revolution to be fully implemented consistently across the sector.
This includes using centralised, live monitoring of CCTV cameras; providing electronic verification of [paper] screening logs; blocking unscreened cargo from being built and manifested; and creating a complete auditable record of each shipment and its screening processes.
All of this is possible today, and all aspects are key components in the enhancement of air cargo security.
“When working to improve security, companies need to remember that their people remain their biggest opportunity”
The real difficulty lies in implementing common global security standards across the large, complex organisational structures found in large cargo handlers. Providing such a universal level of technological maturity and adoption of multiple regulations is a tough job. This is especially true in a low-margin business, when it can be hard to justify additional capital or operating expenditure to achieve a standard that goes beyond the minimum regulatory requirements.
But this investment does pay off and can unlock cost savings through operational efficiencies. Equally, implementing a ‘gold standard’ security brand across the business will easily differentiate the ‘modern’ air cargo handling companies from their competition, a development which will pay dividends and increases in market share.
It is not just a matter of capital investment though. When working to improve security, companies need to remember that their people remain their biggest opportunity – and also their greatest vulnerability. This can be through individual susceptibility to defection or corruption, but more often lies in failures to follow procedures correctly, or not being properly trained to support compliance.
Too often security improvement initiatives are dismissed as ‘flavour of the month’ rather than part of a deep culture change programme that keeps security at the forefront of everyone’s minds and drives home the message that it is each individual’s responsibility.
Most operators are beginning to take action in this area, mainly because they recognise the need to respond to stricter regulatory requirements. Some progressive companies are even taking a more proactive approach, such as when Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) focused on developing a dedicated culture change programme, utilising the latest available surveillance and scanning techniques, and the digitalisation of cargo security records. The ground handler was clear that positioning security in its operations at the highest global standards would help make it stand out from the competition.
“Worldwide Flight Services has a competitive advantage, because security is now at the heart of everything we do,” explains Craig Smyth, the company’s chief executive.
At the heart of good security is the recognition that it is a critical and evolving issue. The evidence is clear that the threat posed to the air cargo sector from terrorists, smugglers and other criminals is mounting, and that mitigating action needs to be urgently taken.
Like WFS, airfreight operators need to ensure that they are working to achieve the highest standards today, whilst securing a longer-term security strategy for tomorrow.
At the very least, it will be essential if the air cargo industry is to retain and grow its market share over other transport modes such as ocean shipping, rail, and especially new entrants such as Amazon and hyperloops.
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