Air Transport World

Aviation's soft underbelly: industry and government seek palatable solutions to the security issues surrounding the transport of freight and mail on passenger jets.

Passengers who intend to board a commercial airline flight in the US endure at least one and perhaps two levels of personal scrutiny. Upon arriving at a security checkpoint they are asked to empty their pockets of keys, coins, nail clippers, pens, PDAs, mobile phones and anything else metallic. Should they still set off the magnetometer, they receive aviation's equivalent of the Full Monty: Shoes off, belt unbuckled, arms and legs spread wide apart while a security screener politely runs a wand over arms, legs, torso and everything in between. They may arrive at their destination to discover that the bags they checked were opened along the way and inspected as well.

Yet when they finally take their seats onboard, they will be sitting above several tons of packages, some large, some small, that have received nary a glance since they left a loading dock somewhere and arrived on the tarmac.

Since 9/11, a vast security apparatus has sprung up to inspect passengers and their luggage with the intent of avoiding a recurrence of that day's catastrophic systemic breakdown in security.

By comparison, relatively little has been done by government agencies to insure the same level of scrutiny of cargo transported on passenger aircraft--or freighters, for that matter. Cargo may be cargo, but it is the stuff in the bellies of passenger jets that is getting the most attention right now. Ironically, this occurs as the air cargo industry recovers from a major public relations black eye, having inadvertently participated in the flight of a fugitive who packed himself into a box and was shipped across the country on a freighter operated by Kitty Hawk Air Cargo. …

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