Lufthansa Cargo: Air cargo security starts at home

09 / 05 / 2014

  • Harald Zielinski, global head of security and environment management for Lufthansa Cargo

    Harald Zielinski, global head of security and environment management for Lufthansa Cargo

HARALD ZIELINSKI, global head of security and environment management for Lufthansa Cargo, has just finished collaborating with professors Elmar Giemulla and Bastian Rothe on a new guide to air cargo security.

To be published in June – so far only in German – and aimed at the non-specialist audience as well as at security professionals, the 750- page volume spends half of its time talking about the principles of air cargo security and the other half explaining the current regulations.

That the latter task takes more than 300 pages tells you something about just how complicated air cargo security is these days. As Zielinski himself says, there are probably at least 120 different national regimes and many of the larger ones contain myriad complexities.

Take the ACC3 programme – the new European Union rule that requires air carriers to be designated as an ‘air cargo or mail carrier operating into the Union from a third country airport’ for each non-EU airport they fly from. This means that airlines will have to get all their handling and other partners at each airport validated by inspectors trained to EU standards by 1 July of this year, that’s less than 10 weeks away.

Except that airlines who can prove they have a proper quality programme in place can get an exemption that allows them to validate only a certain percentage of their stations by that date, agreeing a roadmap for validating the rest over coming years. And except that there is a (secret) ‘green list’ of non- EU countries considered to have acceptably strong security regimes, for which ACC3 validation is not necessary.

There is also a red list of countries where extra measures are required on top of validation; and other countries on neither list for whom the standard rules apply.

On top of the European model, there is ACAS, the Air Cargo Advance Screening programme in the USA, which is now in its pilot phase and being tested by various companies. It is currently voluntary, but is expected to become compulsory in due course. The EU has a similar (though not identical) programme in the pipeline called PRECISE (Pre- departure/loading consignment in- formation for secure entry), while Canada has one called PACT (pre-load air cargo targeting).

All of these require shipment information to be gathered in advance so that possible risk cargo can be identified and either selected for special screening or required to give more information. All are Customs-based programmes – to identify illegal or undesirable cargo – and not to be confused with the Advanced Cargo Screening programme introduced by the US Transportation Security Administration after 9/11 to detect potential bombs.

One might expect a security ex- pert as experienced as Zielinski to be crying foul over all these regimes, particularly as EU and US programmes are not entirely harmonised, but in fact he is pretty sanguine. “I am not pressing the US to change its regime to be similar to the EU one or vice-versa,” he says. “We can live with things the way they are. I would be happy if we could get down to just five different security regimes on earth, but harmonisation all over the world? Forget it! It is a fairy tale.”

Roland Mandel, head of aviation security at Lufthansa Cargo, points out that there is not even the regulatory structure in place to enforce such harmonisation. “There are the recommendations from ICAO, but [individual] states can choose to implement these. And look at the UK. They have added 70-80 so-called ‘more stringent measures’ on top of the EU rules because of risks they say are particular to the UK. So there will not be one [global] air cargo and mail security programme for many years.”

Zielinski’s thinking is tending in a more interesting direction. One of the big projects at Lufthansa Cargo at present is planning its new Frankfurt cargo terminal, and part of that is deciding on how much physical screening will need to be done at the facility and where. Zielinski’s conclusion is that probably there will need to be a lot more than there is currently.

“One of my favourite statements is that air cargo security is coming closer to the airport,” he says. “By that, I mean that air cargo is more secure if it is screened close to the airport, rather than being checked 2,000 kilometres away and then trucked in. That is the question I will be looking at in the next 12 months.”

If that sounds like a recipe for more x-ray machines, Zielinski is not disagreeing. Asked if this does not contradict all the howls of protests from the industry that originally greeted US proposals to screen 100 per cent of belly cargo, he replies that he never opposed this. “My only reply was what about freighter aircraft? I disagree with having different regimes for bellies and freighters.”

Zielinski also says that screening will eventually probably need to go more and more down to piece level, which suggests problems for forwarders who like to submit built-up pallets. “Yes, that could be the outcome,” he says, but he thinks that more radical thinking is needed from the air cargo industry.

“I am not tasked to sit in my office and have entities cover me with rules. I think it would be better if we could prepare something new and suggest it to the authorities. The question is not what was done in the past, but what would happen if there were a major cargo security incident tomorrow. And even if there is not, where do we want to be in five years time?”

The problem when trying to think out of the box in this way is that air cargo screening technology is not really adequate. “The x-ray specialists tell me that it [this method] has gone about as far as it can go – that it won’t get any better in the future,” says Zielinski.

Meanwhile, he dismisses decompression chambers as “obsolete – the Model T Ford of security, not state of the art”. Decompression tests had a point back in the 1970s when bombs were set off by barometric pressure, but are irrelevant in the days of computerised control, he points out. “And other than that, what do we have? Trace detection, sniffer dogs. But that is it.”

So, both Zielinski and Mandel yearn for a security technology that has not been developed yet, one which – as Mandel says – could fit within existing logistics processes, not require them to be re-invented. “If I have to take goods out of the logistics chain to be screened, it slows everything down and that is not what air cargo is needed for,” he says.

Such technology does not appear to be on the horizon, however. Given his influential position at one of the world’s top cargo airlines, Zielinski probably gets shown more experimental screening ideas than anyone else, but has not seen any breakthroughs so far. “Everything we are offered is always years away,” he says. “We are always told: ‘We have a beautiful device for you’ –but when we check it out it has no serious outcomes.”

And so it is back to the day-to-day of making sure Lufthansa Cargo complies with all the regulations, and the good news, for the German carrier at least, is that Mandel reckons it is already on schedule to meet the needs of ACC3.

“In the beginning we had some concerns about whether we would be able to find enough independent validators, but now a number of companies offer that service, and in fact we even have a choice,” he says. “So everything is on track and we are confident we should have our first stations validated by the end of May.”