Air cargo shippers are facing stricter security compliance measures for flights into the US, with similar programs on the way in Europe and Canada.

After a year-long pilot period, the US Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) program came into full effect on 12 June. It is the culmination of a nine-year process to improve cargo security for flights into the US, following the foiled terrorist plot to plant explosives in printer cartridges on a cargo plane in 2010.

Developed by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA), ACAS requires shippers and forwarders to submit pre-arrival air cargo data prior to aircraft loading at foreign airports. This includes the air waybill number, the shipper’s and the consignee’s name and address, a description of the cargo and its weight and quantity.

“The ACAS pilot has been successful in enabling CBP to identify a substantial amount of high-risk cargo,” CBP said in a statement. 

According to Fred Werginz, head of commercial operations for North America & Caribbean at air cargo IT solutions specialist CHAMP Cargosystems, CBP said it would take a “common sense approach” on enforcement during the pilot period, meaning no damages claims would be issued for the first 12 months.

“However, now it is anticipated that violations will become subject to liquidated damages claims,” he explained in a blog post.

“If CBP determines a shipment is a risk, ACAS returns a ‘Do Not Load’ (DNL) status for the shipment and allows for physical screening to take place before it is consolidated or loaded on the aircraft.”

Penalties range from US$5,000 to $10,000 for non-compliance. For small shippers and freight forwarders, especially, the extra security measures could add considerable time and cost onto their air cargo supply chains. One way to mitigate the increased paperwork is to deploy specialist software to transfer the consignment data electronically.

Werginz explained how CBP is flexible in terms of how the data can be transferred and in what format – for example, it accepts the commonly used IATA Freight Way Bill (FWB) House Airway Bill (FHL) CargoIMP messages. CHAMP’s TRAXON Global Security service also gives carriers and forwarders the ability to transfer ACAS data prior to loading.

“This simplifies the complexity of message exchange with partners, increases operational efficiency and saves time, and reduces the risk of security ‘holds’,” added Werginz.

While the global air cargo community has been aware of ACAS for some time, the security programs under development in the European Union (EU) and Canada have so far garnered less attention.

Canada’s Pre-Load Air Cargo Targeting (PACT) pilot is ongoing, with authorities currently testing the use of artificial intelligence to analyse shipment information and identify high-risk cargo as early as possible.

Legislation on the EU’s Pre-Loading Consignment Information for Secure Entry (PRECISE) came into effect in 2016, but implementation will not begin until 2021. According to supply chain software firm Descartes, EU PRECISE will be closely coordinated with ACAS.

“So if you’re up to date on ACAS, you’ll be ahead of the game when the EU begins its program.”