As passenger air travel has become more secure, the trend in terrorist attacks could now move towards an easier target: all-cargo transportation.
and Paul Munslow
Using Terror as a means to achieve one's aim dates back to the beginnings of recorded history. Over the centuries terrorism has become more and more refined and has spread through countless spheres of activity, proving to be one of the deadliest threats the modern world is currently confronted with.
Nowadays, the overall perception of this phenomenon is that it is a menace against worldwide ideals of freedom and peace. It is an attempt at destroying an ideal that society has worked so hard to achieve: democracy.
With the continuous development of the civil aviation industry, this area has become more and more of an attractive target for terrorist attacks. National airlines are identified with the countries they operate in and, therefore, a means to force Governments into yielding to the demands of terrorists. Why airlines? Because by targeting an aircraft the perpetrators can achieve massacre, mass destruction and high publicity all at the same time. An international flight might well carry people from 60 or 70 different countries at one time. Details of a terrorist attack on such an aircraft would flash across millions of TV screens on the whole Globe.
Deadly events have called for more stringent security measures. As 100% passenger and hold baggage screening became a must, passenger planes have become a more difficult target for attacks.
Airlines rejoiced in witnessing a significantly lower level of breaches in security in the '80s and '90s. However, as it has always been the case, terrorists have adapted. Their creativity in finding cracks in the security systems and exploiting them was still underestimated, with a result that shook the whole Globe: September 11, 2001.
The implementation of stricter regulations has usually been a consequence of actual events taking place and of pressure coming from society in general.
9/11 brought increasingly complex security measures. We witnessed not only technical improvements, but also implementation of more advanced methods such as profiling.
As passenger air travel has become more and more secure, therefore an increasingly difficult target, the trend in terrorist attack could now move towards an easier one: all-cargo transportation. We must now give up our laid-back attitude, as every successful attempt in disrupting any stage of terrorist planning could mean the difference between life or death.
Public perception is that cargo is subject to extremely rigorous controls and that the regulations governing this sector are very strict, but there are still many areas that need to be improved. The circulation of cargo has always been difficult to understand by an outsider.
However, today's widespread use of the internet provides free and easily accessible information on just anything for those interested. The cargo industry is no exception.
Bearing in mind the fact that the terrorist's first purpose is finding ways to breach security, we must be prepared. Cargo could become a side door for attacks against passengers as more and more consignments are being carried on passenger planes.
Nowadays, there are several approved screening methods for cargo such as X-ray, hand search, flight simulation (including decompression) and canine olfaction, which are used worldwide on a daily basis for detecting hazardous substances and threat items.
However, these methods cannot be deemed 100% reliable. For example, procedures involving X-rays still depend very much on human interpretation of images. The difficulty in detecting a threat item in a 50 cm x 50 cm passenger bag is relatively low, compared to a 1,5m x 2m piece of cargo, for example. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find an IED in such a large item.
There are even more risk-factors involved. Some of the most important are:
a) approximately 80% of cargo goes on passenger planes
b) it is possible to direct shipment into a specific flight
c) more and more cargo is being transported by air
d) cargo preparation and transportation involves various organisations and people
The weaknesses of the system and the creativity of terrorists, combined with other psychological factors, could transform air cargo transportation into a target for future attacks. By exploiting the existing flaws, terrorists could attempt placing explosive devices either in cargo that will fly on passenger planes or in items to be transported on all-cargo aircraft. It takes only as much as 300 grams of Semtex in an IED to blow up any plane, even a jumbo aircraft like Boeing 747.
The Aviation Security regulations are meant to protect passengers, air-crew, ground personnel and the general public against acts of unlawful interference in civil aviation and to ensure that everybody involved plays an active part in minimising any existing flaws in procedures.
The relationship between regulatory bodies and the industry is fundamental in establishing and maintaining high standards.
All enterprises involved in the preparation, transport and receipt of air cargo must apply adequate security procedures and controls. Protecting all items of cargo at all times until its delivery to the airline or its duly authorised handling agent for onward carriage proves to be vital.
Paul Munslow is Renful's Aviation Security Consultant and has been accredited to deliver 'The Aviation Security Training, Level 3 Course' in the UK.
Renful also produce an interactive DVD Training Program based on 'The Aviation Security Training, Level 4 Course'.