Cargo Screening Advances

Carroll McCormick reports on how new equipment is rising to the challenges of screening requirements.

An X-ray inspection system for palletised cargo and a desktop explosives trace detection machine are improving cargo throughput for Romulus, Michigan-based Commercial Freight Services Inc (CFS), while maintaining the security and integrity of the shipper’s original packaging.
“We believe that the shipper’s packaging should be a critical consideration when determining the screening method, especially with high security products, sensitive medical equipment, perishables and pharmaceuticals,” says CFS vice president Dwight Fairchild.
The machines will also help CFS meet the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) mandate, set out in the 2007 9/11 Bill, that 100% of outbound domestic and international air cargo on passenger planes originating in the United States be screened for explosives.
CFS is an Indirect Air Carrier (IAC), which, simply put, is a US company that is not an airline, but which uses airlines to transport cargo.  CFS is also a certified cargo-screening facility (CCSF) and member of the IAC Screening Technology Pilot Program (CCSP).
CFS and three other cargo companies were the first to be certified under the CCSP.  This is a voluntary programme in which facilities that seek approval as CCSFs will be required to meet a variety of rigorous security standards and will be regulated by TSA.  For example, according to a TSA document: “A CCSP would be required to submit to security threat assessments of personnel, adhere to specified physical security standards and maintain a strict chain of custody for cargo they screen and forward to the air carrier as a condition of its acceptance as screened cargo by the air carrier.”
CFS purchased the two pieces of equipment from Watford, England-based Smiths Detection, which is part of the London, UK-based Smiths Group: an IONSCAN 500DT explosives and narcotics trace detector and a HISCAN 180180-2is x-ray inspection system.  CFS installed the 500DT in time to help it meet the February 3, 2009 deadline that TSA imposed for 50% screening of all cargo on passenger planes.  CFS had the 180180-2is in position in its 30,000 sq ft (2,787m2) cargo facility just north of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport by this April.

A screener rubs a treated swab over a package. (CFS)

The 500DT is a desktop machine measuring 16 inches long x 22.5 in high x 16 in deep (40 x 57 x 40 cm) with the 10.4 in (26.4 cm) screen raised.  It uses dual ion mobility spectrometry technology to detect traces residues of more than 40 explosives or narcotic substances.  In use, a testing officer takes a cotton swab that has been chemically treated to capture trace materials and swabs the outside of the package to be screened.  Then the officer places the cotton swab in the 500DT.  Molecules from the sample are heated, yielding a vapour that is passed through a tube containing a detector.  The 500DT measures the speed at which ionised molecules move through the tube, and other characteristics.  A ‘fingerprint’ of each type of ionised molecule, or compound, is created and compared to fingerprints in a database stored in the machine.  The analysis takes from five to eight seconds, according to Smiths Detection.
The 500DT can detect many common explosives, narcotics, dangerous chemicals, and precursor compounds.  The machine is sensitive to explosives traces in the picogram range and to narcotics in the sub-nanogram range.  “The readings are very specific,” says Mark Laustra, Vice President of Homeland Security, Smiths Detection.  Mr Laustra adds that other customers include DHL, Kuehne & Nagel, UPS and Fedex.
The 500DT is a mobile device and weighs only 43 pounds (19 kg).  “The big advantage is that there is a lot of leeway in how the equipment is used.  The machine has a very small footprint.  Some users put it on a trolley and move it around.  There is no limitation for the size of cargo it can be used for,” Laustra says.
For the CFS cargo processing operation though, Fairchild explains: “Facility security dictates that it remain stationary.  Where it becomes mobile is that the explosives detection testing officer using the wand can move away from the machine.”
Under the ‘new normal’ throughput times that the 50% screening mandate imposes, Fairchild is very satisfied with the rate at which the 500DT processes cargo.  “You can actually clear large volumes of freight in a timely matter.”  He points out that the machine is a vast improvement over physical searches, which TSA permits for meeting the 50% and 100% mandate.
The 500DT also retains all the screening data.  As a CCSF, it is mandatory that CFS transmit the screening data back to TSA for inspection.  “The quality, ease of use and advanced data capabilities have made reporting to TSA a simple process,” Fairchild says.
The swab is placed in an explosives trace detection machine for analysis for trace explosives or narcotics. (CFS)

The 180180-2is is a completely different piece of hardware, one which could help TSA relax the ‘piece level’ rule, which requires that each package be scanned separately.  It measures 22.6ft long, 11ft wide and 7.7ft high (6.89 x 3.44 x 2.35 m).  Installed in the CFS facility it stretches 35ft (10.7 m), including the conveyors at either end.
One of the most compelling features of the 180180-2is x-ray system for Fairchild is the tunnel, which measures 71 in wide x 71 in high (180.3 x 180.3 cm).  This allows objects as large as 70.4 in wide x 66.9 in high (179 x 170 cm) and weighing up to 13,200 lbs (6,000 kg) to pass through it; for example, pallets and LD-3 unit loading devices (a type of airfreight container).  It has a dual-view x-ray, which allows operators to see the cargo from two angles.  This, says Laustra: “gives us an advantage over single view systems in imaging and locating dangerous objects.”
For Fairchild, whose company is the first to get the 180180-2is, the tunnel size was a compelling sales feature: “The tunnels vary dramatically between the different machines.  The 180180-2is has one of the largest tunnels on the technology list and is the only one out there that can scan an LD-3.  It is the largest piece of equipment in a [US] cargo screening facility.
“The 500DT and 180180-2is are on the TSA approved technology list.  In our due diligence we talked to a lot of people and were impressed with Smith’s relationship with TSA and its knowledge of the TSA mandate.  Smith was top notch all the way around.  The features of the two pieces of equipment were just superior to the other equipment I saw out there.”
As part of its relationship with TSA, which includes having receiving funds to help purchase the Smiths Detection equipment, CFS is providing feedback to TSA on optimal screening methods, including data that could lead TSA to permit an alternative to the piece level rule.  “We will,” Fairchild says: “be providing feedback to TSA on screening methods, best practices, concerns and problems.”

This Smiths Detection x-ray machine can accommodate an LP-3 unit loading device. (CFS)


According to a statement from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) before the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, Committee on Homeland Security, Unites States House of Representatives on March 18, the TSA was confident that it would be able to produce data by April that it had met the mandate that 50% of all cargo on passenger aircraft be screened.
TSA also reported that airlines operating narrow body passenger aircraft from US airports had achieved the milestone of 100% screening by October, 2008, 22 months ahead of schedule.  “One hundred percent of the cargo on 96% of the flights originating in the US is now screened … 85% of the passengers flying each day from US airports are on planes where all of the cargo has been fully screened.”
As for cargo inbound from foreign countries, the TSA stated: “To date, the industry has accomplished 50% system-wide screening for international inbound cargo.  TSA cannot implement a security regimen in a foreign country without extensive, cooperative planning with, and acceptance by, our international partners.  Given these challenges, TSA does not expect that 100% screening will be attainable for inbound cargo on passenger aircraft by August 2010.”
Washington, DC-based Air Cargo Security Alliance (ACSA) has expressed great concern that the screening burden on Indirect Air Carriers (IAC) is too great and that the TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Program should complement a federal air cargo-screening program at US airports, rather than be a substitute for it.  ACSA believes that the “vast majority” of the 4,200 IACs in the US cannot afford the equipment, space, training and manpower to comply with the screening mandate.
ACSA believes that TSA advice that IACs that do not screen ship their cargo via Fedex, certified cargo-screening facilities or simply not ship at all, is ludicrous.  “Such a response is senseless – and the attitude that it reveals towards the thousands of small businesses that make up the air cargo industry nationwide is reckless,” ACSA comments.  “TSA’s proposed cargo screening regime will take away that level playing field and force the small to mid-size forwarders and IACs to face insurmountable costs and logistical hurdles before they could even enter the market-place.  For many, the TSA proposal is a threat to their very existence.