Pilots Urge Risk-Based Approach To Air Cargo Security


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Pilots Urge Risk-Based Approach To Air Cargo Security

Shane Nolan

November 9, 2010 - The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), renewed its long-standing call for an air cargo screening policy that is risk-based, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and for fundamental security enhancements that will bring all-cargo flight operations up to passenger airline standards. 

“The events of late last week demonstrated what ALPA has warned government and industry about for many years: air cargo operations are vulnerable and the threat is very real,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president.  

“We know that risk-based screening and other security enhancements are urgently needed to close existing gaps that put at risk passengers, cargo, and pilots, as well as persons on the ground, if a terrorist were to be successful in bringing down an aircraft over a major metropolitan area.” 


Cargo carried in domestic operations by passenger airlines is thoroughly screened. Security measures used by all-cargo airlines, however, are vastly different from those used by passenger carriers and are much less reliable. All-cargo operations must use a threat-based approach to identify trustworthy shippers and freight and subject them to one level of screening, while those individuals, organizations, and materials about which little is known would be subject to a greater level of scrutiny.  

Doing so would allow cargo screeners to effectively focus resources on shippers and freight that pose the greatest risk, while cargo from trustworthy shippers and forwarders would pass through the screening system more quickly and cost-effectively. 

“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that demands the same type of screening for every piece of cargo will be costly, threaten commerce, and fail to enhance aviation security,” said Capt. Bill McReynolds, a FedEx Express pilot who is chairman of ALPA’s President’s Committee for Cargo. “A screening strategy that is tailored to the threat, and is commerce-friendly and cost-effective will focus resources where they are needed to secure air transportation, while keeping freight moving.”


In addition to a threat-based approach to screening, ALPA is pressing for “One Level of Safety and Security” for both passenger and cargo flight operations. Currently, the all-cargo segment of the airline industry is exempt from many of the security policies that are mandated for passenger aircraft.  

For example, all-cargo aircraft are not required to be equipped with cockpit doors, despite the fact that all-cargo airlines routinely transport passengers traveling with cargo. Passenger airliners are not only mandated to have cockpit doors, but the doors must be hardened and resistant to intrusion. In addition, all-cargo flight crews are not required to receive the same security training as is mandated for passenger airline pilots. 

“In 2006, the U.S. government declared that the greatest security risk facing the all-cargo airline operations was a hostile takeover of the aircraft,” continued McReynolds. “Yet, four years later, our country still fails to require that all-cargo aircraft be equipped with cockpit doors at all, let alone those made with the hardened material that provides an additional layer of security and are required on passenger airliners.” 

To achieve a single level of aviation security, ALPA advocates:

- Incorporating greater use of technology and vetting systems in screening of cargo loaded on all-cargo aircraft 

- Installing hardened flight deck doors on all-cargo aircraft 

- Requiring specific security training for all-cargo flightcrew members 

- Enhancing perimeter security for all airport areas where cargo flights operate 

-Increasing background vetting of those individuals with unescorted access to cargo and cargo aircraft 

In addition to cargo security enhancements, ALPA is also calling for safety improvements for cargo carriers, including improving the safety of transporting lithium batteries and instituting a single level of aircraft rescue and fire-fighting standards for all airline operations.


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