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UK airfreight screening is robust, says BIFA

As Home Secretary Teresa May and the UK government prepared to review air cargo security in the light of late October’s ‘Yemen incident’ at East Midlands Airport, the British International Freight Assocition (BIFA), warned against a “knee jerk reaction”. Director general Peter Quantrill said: “The

issue requires attention, but it must be stressed that there are already well established, in depth and organised processes in place. It was a very serious issue, but it would be wrong to suggest that airfreight is not treated in the same way as passengers when it comes to security.” BIFA’s director, trade services John O’Connell

added that some so-called security ‘experts’ interviewed in the media in the immediate aftermath of the incident might have given the impression that only passenger baggage is screened and cargo somehow finds its way into the hold without having been scrutinised in any way. “But in the UK at least, nothing could be further from the truth.” However, BIFA said it was not in a position to

discuss details of the comprehensive processes and ongoing compliance audits that are in operation “because the Government, quite rightly, operates on the premise that only those who have a legitimate need to know – should know basis.” O’Connell continued: “The ideal scenario

would be for all countries to agree on a common (security) standard throughout the world. Unfortunately myriad practicalities are likely to stand in the way of such a solution for some years to come but ultimately I believe the like of the United Nations would be the forum in which to begin the process.” Fortunately, added Peter Quantrill, “the

government has already acknowledged the massive economic and financial implications of much tighter international air cargo security rules, and has stopped short of saying that a much more rigorous system of checks was being planned either unilaterally or globally. Success in securing the supply chain

relies less on new methods and technology than it does on greater co-operation and information sharing among supply chain parties and between the public and private sectors. “Our members are constantly looking at the screening of freight and the processes that they use. You can be certain that we will be talking with Government and other involved parties about these issues.” John O’Connell said that experienced civil

servants from the Department for Transport Aviation Security Directorate and similarly qualified industry representatives in the air cargo sector, including BIFA, will meet to consider the implications of the Yemeni incident in the coming weeks. However, airfreight security in the UK itself

was not necessarily the issue. Much of the concern is over cargo originating overseas and either destined for the UK, or transiting the UK en-route to the final destination overseas. As far as UK-originating cargo is concerned,

said O’Connell, “we already have a very robust aviation security programme based on the mandatory requirements of EU Regulation 300, plus a number of additional national measures required by the UK government. In fact, by implementing EU 300 in April of this year, the European Commission effectively substantially mirrored tried and tested

measures that the UK has had in place for many years.” As far as countries

deemed to be high risk are concerned, he added, “no doubt this is an area that the Government will give priority to in its consultative process though clearly it has very limited influence on what happens in other sovereign states.” Many countries have now have already

Peter Quantrill

banned air cargo that either originates or has transited the Yemen or Somalia. However, he said, “there are clearly other unstable nation states that the intelligence agencies will be focusing their attention on. There is doubtless a strong case for other countries to up their security standards but such enhancements will take time and a considerable amount of diplomatic and political ‘encouragement’. This said, the airlines themselves have a duty of care, as such, to ensure that the receipt of cargo at all stations on their network is subject to a consistently high level of screening.” The ‘100% screening’ that is the stated goal

of the US authorities by 2013 might sound appealing, but would be “a blunt weapon, O’Connell believes. “Security is not just about screening as such, it’s about knowing the background of a given consignment. Why subject goods from an established bona fide exporter who uses secure transport and accredited forwarders to 100% screening checks day in and day out? As an industry we should be able to facilitate the established known and legitimate shippers, who provide the majority of air cargo, and concentrate our efforts on those that we don’t know.” In this issue...

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