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If your company is involved with express shipments coming into the US on passenger flights, you need to be both aware of and following the development of the Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) system.

Briefly, after the 2012 placement and discovery of ink cartridge bombs placed by terrorists in cargo plane shipments out of Yemen, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immediately mandated the formation of new cargo security protocols to further protect inbound US flights. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was charged with developing a system to review data on each inbound shipment. The TSA was tasked with coming up with the overseas screening standards for shipments headed for the US.

Over the past two years, the XLA has been active in many meetings with both the CBP and the TSA as complex issues have been discussed, debated and analyzed. Several XLA members have taken part in the CBP pilot program for shipment data submission. It has been a complex and often challenging process to say the least. It is hoped by the regulators that the ACAS comment period could begin in early 2015 with a Federal Register notice of rulemaking (NPRM) and ACAS could be operational before the end of that year. We shall see if that timeline is met.
So where do we stand today?

Let’s first examine the CBP side of ACAS.

The principle is simple. No cargo may be transported on a US bound flight unless “data elements” of every piece are submitted, reviewed and approved by CBP. Basically, it is only when CBP issues a “yellow light” - which would denote that further information is needed for the review of a shipment- or a “red light” - which means it cannot be transported – that inbound shipments would be impacted. And the CBP pilot program revealed an extremely low percentage for stopped shipments. Data submission elements include shipment contents, weight, shipper, origination and other information.

One of our main goals throughout XLA’s participation in ACAS meetings in Washington is to ensure not only a workable system but also one that would not provide an unfair advantage to certain segments within our industry. Specifically, we have pushed that the same data submission standards applied to IACs utilizing inbound US carriers be applied to integrators using their cargo planes. Because our members are in the “express” air cargo business, we have also pushed hard for a quick turnaround from CBP on the inbound shipment approval process. Again, we feel CBP has been responsive so far to our concerns.

There remain outstanding data submission issues – most of which we cannot go into for security purposes for this article. We can mention that overseas tail-to-tail transfers remain problematic as well as commingled shipments. There are IT issues which are still being reviewed. And we need to discuss the practicality of a requirement that each IAC have personnel accessible to CBP 24/7 when issues arise.

On the TSA side, the standards for overseas screening are challenging. The screening standards in EU countries for example, are far less problematic than those existing in other parts of the world. Not all National Cargo Security Programs (NCSP) allow forwarders to screen and there are sometimes additional variations in procedures which are at odds with our screening standards. Also will ACAS screening “trump” country specific NCSP rules for resolving high risk determinations? And keep in mind that TSA has overseas jurisdictional authority only for regulating the carriers, which may mean some type of “dual filing” requirement between the carrier and the forwarder. This is complex stuff.

The XLA and the industry groups we participate in are working with TSA towards the development of some type of “Trusted Shipper” status which would provide operational flexibilities. We want – especially for our established global shipping members – the ability to choose a screening system that best suits their business model. A CCSP type of approach is but one example. We also seek the most efficient and expedited manner of “filing” screening results with TSA so as not to slow down the process. We need to have a sensible screening system for “in-transit” shipments so it would not have to be re-screened if there is an overseas transfer/connection.

And there are many other outstanding issues. For example the screening of sensitive cargo such as life sciences and pharmaceuticals and temperature controlled shipments. We believe that life science/pharma companies should have the ability to screen their own shipments in accordance with established (CCSP-like) regulations because most cannot be opened without damaging the contents.

This is but a brief overview of some of the challenges in the formation of the ACAS. The XLA, along with other stakeholders, will continue to work with both CBP and TSA on the many outstanding issues and challenges inherent to the ACAS program. We agree with the federal government – in the aftermath of the Yemen terrorist attempt- that additional security is warranted for inbound US cargo. We need to continue to work with CBP and TSA towards an ACAS system that, when promulgated, is effective, manageable, and efficient as possible.

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