Following the bottling up of a score of would-be "liquid bombers" in the UK last month, emotions ranged from anger to resignation to risque humor as new security procedures went into effect for airports and airlines. Initially, some passengers, particularly those whose work has them in the air quite a lot, said they might forego scheduled airlines in favor of chartered flights. Later, many travelers seemed to shrug off the hassles created by the new security regime. Perhaps the whattaya-gonna-do attitude was summed up best by the traveler who said he'd prefer to have six people screen him than six bearing him to the cemetery. Then there was RyanAir, the discount airline that got a little cheeky with British security authorities. First it threatened a lawsuit over the new screening procedures, then a photo of naked people running away from their clothing went up on its company web site. The caption: "New Airport Security Procedures Put the Fun Back Into Flying."
If anything is running people away from flying, it seems to be the high cost of fuel, not the new security rules. The same is true on the cargo side. As the cost of airfreight continues to rise, shippers increasingly are looking at ground delivery options.
That's not to say there are no ramifications from tightened security procedures. In the short term, cargo-in the form of laptops and carry-ons of every description-pour into cargo holds like water on a bad roof. On combination aircraft, that's diminished space for "real" cargo, at least temporarily.
Is there a cost to that, and if so, who pays in the end for these new security mandates? And while the emphasis has been on the safety of passengers, isn't there a corresponding need to heighten screening of air cargo loaded into freighters? Finally, is there an analog with the ocean transportation business, whose concerns with container and port security, have been well documented for years?
Clearly, the air industry and its regulators must be careful about this, in the view of Oliver Evans, head of cargo operations for Swiss WorldCargo. He feels existing security procedures are appropriate given the balance that's necessary between security--which is "a matter on which nobody can compromise"--and the cost of such protection. He says he's very much aware that criminal elements are constantly looking to take advantage of loopholes, and airlines and handling companies are obligated to identify such gaps where they can. But imposing additional security barriers carries a serious downside for business.
"Cargo processes have costs associated with them and the more complex these processes, the more expensive the equipment that's required to execute those processes, the more pressure there is on the air industry," Evans says. "While the industry strives to remain competitive, it also needs to be viable. If there are increased costs, they are applicable throughout the supply chain. That's a sad reality."
Evans says security rules can't be applied to just one part of the industry, such as passenger flights, but not to cargo freighters. "We strongly advocate that security processes apply no matter what kind of aircraft is used, but it's incumbent upon any player in the industry, including the airlines, to try to improve their efficiency in order to minimize the impact of these costs."
While the need for increased security is a fact of life for the industry, the precautions taken after the arrests in the United Kingdom are "not a major cargo event, despite the sudden deluge of baggage that would normally go topside," says Ted Scherck, president and CEO of the Colography Group, Atlanta.
|"If there are increased costs, they are applicable throughout the supply chain. That's a sad reality."|
- Oliver Evans of Swiss WorldCargo
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