World aviation security is nearing the completion of an 18-month rush job to comprehensively upgrade airport security. This is a project that has employed an "army" of over 80,000 screeners worldwide (50,000 in the U.S.), and involved the installation of billions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art screening equipment.
This is a remarkable accomplishment. But studies by Homeland Security Research Corporation (HSRC), an independent San Jose California based homeland security market and technology research organization, concluded that this wall of aviation security has a gaping hole in the form of unscreened air cargo shipments on scheduled passenger flights - a hole that may seriously compromise the safety of air travelers and the economic health of the aviation industry.
Air cargo encompasses transported goods, such as freight, express cargo, and airmail.
Although the public is largely unaware of this, the situation is by no means a secret to the government and to the aviation industry, as can be seen from the following two unclassified quotes:
- "At first glance, cargo aviation may not seem like a security problem, but in fact, therein lies one of the most serious security lapses in our fight against terrorism. For example, about 60 percent of all U.S. air cargo flies on passenger planes, but only about five percent is required to undergo screening for dangerous items." Source: Capt. Bob Miller, President, Independent Pilots Association; January 2003
- "Neither FAA nor TSA has developed a comprehensive plan for air-cargo security as recommended by the Gore Commission, which would provide a first step toward meeting the requirement of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act to have a system in place to ensure the security of cargo. TSA officials have told us that the agency intends to issue a long-term plan for cargo security, but they were unsure when that would occur." Source: GAO; December 2002
The facts are simple:
- Current worldwide air cargo traffic is 7 million tons per year. It is projected to grow at an average of 6.4% per year.
- The public incorrectly assumes that air-cargo is a secondary risk issue, since "only" dedicated cargo flights are exposed to the risk.
- In reality, about 50% of passenger flight "payload" is largely unscreened air cargo.
- According to a recent report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), less than 5% of this cargo is currently screened for any threat.
- Cargo is an easy and accessible platform for many types of terrorism.
- Placing and activating explosives in cargo does not require sophistication on the part of terrorists and does not require suicide terrorism.
- Cargo can be used to either transfer or use weapons of mass destruction explosives and conventional weapons.
- In addition to the safety and security aspects of unscreened air cargo, the economic impact of an air cargo terror event, successful or not, may increase the economic woes of the already hurting airline industry and national economies. The collateral economic damage of an air-cargo terror event may exceed $500B.