Air Cargo Security


This paper will  examine quite a few issues related to identifying threats to air cargo security and the overall enhancement and  intervention along with the prevention efforts designed to help reduce,  but never 100% the threats posed by  terrorists, and others who wish to do us harm.  It will identify many key issues leading to recognition and the need for improved in all our security measures (e.g., Pan Flight 103, Valu Jet Flight 592, Underwear Bomber and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks). It will also define threats facing the air cargo division; it will also consider the differences between screening cargo and inspection of cargo. The paper will also offer an overview of security regulations, and consider the huge economic impact of building an enhanced air cargo security unit.  Last it will serve to demonstrate the much needed and ongoing improvements in cargo security systems affecting this vital supply line within the air transportation sector.


In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, aviation security, including the security of cargo carried on passenger and all-cargo aircraft, became a growing concern both to the public and to members of Congress. Since the attacks, several instances of human stowaways in the cargo holds of all-cargo aircraft have further heightened the concern over air cargo security by revealing vulnerabilities that could potentially threaten the entire air transportation system. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), enacted in November 2001, required the screening of all passengers and property, including cargo, United States mail, and carry-on and checked baggage that is carried onboard commercial passenger aircraft.  It also required that a system be put in place as soon as practicable to screen, inspect, or otherwise ensure the security of cargo on all-cargo aircraft.  Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for overseeing aviation security to ensure the security of the air traveling public. While TSA has focused much of its attention on meeting requirements to screen 100 percent of passengers and baggage, less attention has been paid to securing air cargo transported on passenger and all-cargo aircraft (Berrick, 2005).  This concern has lost some momentum, since that horrible day in September; some 13 years have passed without an attack on U.S. flagged carrier.  We all remember the underwear bomber on that Christmas morning, if he would have been on his game that morning, another aircraft and its passengers would have perished (Berrick, 2005). My hope is this report will shed some light on the lack of air cargo security, along with some recommendations from the leading air cargo carriers.

 Factors Contributing to Lack of Air Cargo Security

            It is evident that air cargo security is seriously wanting. There are a number of factors that have contributed to poor air cargo security in the United States. One of the major factors that have contributed to the same is lack of standardized freight and air security.  Essentially, there are States where the rules are stringent hence high levels of air cargo security. On the contrary, there are also states where the rules are relaxed (Blanchard, 2010). Equally, lack of standardization makes it hard for air cargo companies to ensure active compliance. This is because they find it problematic to ascertain which rules to adhere to and which one to neglect, hence compromising on security (Zellan, 2013).

In the same regard, lack of security awareness among the employees of air cargo companies has also contributed a lot to poor security or security problems. This can be attributed to the fact that the employees may not full understand the need to ensure maximum security or proper screening of passengers and cargos. Correspondingly, lack of awareness creates a barrier to the development of skills and knowledge integral to ensure maximum security. With this being the case, employees may not be in a position to execute their roles and duties in the desired manner. The underwear bomber is a good illustration that employees in the industry lack awareness in relation to security or screening passengers and cargos. This is evident considering the fact that the underwear bomber would have been able to pass the security checks. However, his confession led to his apprehension (Price & Forrest, 2013).

The use of outdated technology has also been pointed to be one of the main factors contributing to poor air cargo security. There are air cargo companies that have failed to invest in modern technologies that will enable them to screen their passengers and cargos in the desired manner to ensure they are clean of any security threats. Most of them find modern technologies expensive, hence their unwillingness (Patrick, 2014). Essentially, they lack the resources and manpower to acquire new technologies. On the contrary, there are others that have the ability to acquire advanced screening technologies. However, they chose not to as a way cutting their expenses to remain profitable. For example, research has shown that surveillance technology in many air cargo companies is inadequate. This leads to terrorists sneaking in and out unnoticed. It is imperative for these companies to improve on the same if they are to improve their chances of apprehending terrorists before they launch their attacks (Berrick, 2005).

Entrance controls in freight centers have also been criticized as most scholars believe they have failed to stop many attacks. Terrorists find it easy to enter a freight center when its entrance control systems prove to be ineffective. Such centers should be equipped with adequate manpower and technology to ensure they are able to screen cargos and passengers in the desired manner. No one should be able to gain access to a freight center without authorization or proper screening. Any loopholes in the system make it easy for unauthorized access. This also means that terrorists can also access the center without being checked. In the end, they are able to carry out their criminal acts without any problems (Zellan, 2013).

Ensuring 100 percent screening has proved to be a major challenge to almost if not all air cargo companies. For one, this is a complex task that requires not only expertise but also advanced technologies. This is also a process that is tedious and time consuming. Research has shown that many European air cargo companies have invested a lot in security and active compliance with rules. This has contributed a lot to improved air cargo security. However, it has also come at a price. For example, much urgent freight is delayed in the process. This is because it takes more time to ensure everything has been checked and in the desired manner. Air cargo companies in the United States must be willing to incur such costs to be able to achieve their goal of zero security issues. This means that they must change their way of thinking and perception as well as culture (Zellan, 2013).

Terrorists have been capitalizing on advanced technologies to carry out their activities without being noticed. The underwear bomber was carrying plastic explosives. This made it hard for their air security to detect the explosives. Such bombs were not there a few years ago. Basically, terrorists are using the technological advancements to their advantage. Specifically, they are coming up with ways of ensuring they are able to bypass security without any problems. With this being the case, air cargo companies that have failed to invest in modern or advanced technologies find it problematic to detect security threats. This also results into increased security threats in air cargo companies. Essentially, most of the companies are never 100 percent sure that they have covered all areas that terrorists may use to attack.

The government has also been blamed for failing to work closely with the private security in dealing with the problem. This is an issue that requires the intervention of all stakeholders if it is to be handled in the desired manner. The private sector has a good understanding of the problem at hand considering the fact that it is affected directly. Most air cargo companies are privately owned, hence the need for the government to work with them in coming up with a long-term solution. The government works with what it knows in developing a remedy to the issue of air cargo security. In most cases, it works under the assumption that it has all the information integral for successful decision making. This is not entirely true as there is always a chance that it may ignore a few details which are equally important. This is an issue that can easily be solved through collaborating with the private sector (GAO Reports, 2002).

 Economic Impact of Enhanced Air Cargo Security         

            Poor air cargo security has proved to be costly to the country in the past especially economy wise. For one, it has affected the levels of investment in the country. It has also lead to loss of lives. Equally, properties worth billions of dollars have been destroyed as a result of previous attacks such as the September 11, 2001 attack. The country had to spend a lot to rebuild or acquire what was lost in the process. As such, there is the need for the government as well as the private sector to deal with the problem once and for all. Basically, there is the need for improved air cargo security as this stands to improve the economy of the country in many ways (Price & Forrest, 2013).

There are a number of economic that will accrue as a result of enhanced air cargo security. For one, this will increase the number of investors in the country. Investors are normally attracted to markets that are secure. Improved security will increase their confidence, hence their willingness to invest in the country. Lack of security in any of sector in the country can lead to investors investing elsewhere. This is because they understand for a fact that they will be affected in one way or another. Improving security and attracting many investors will improve the economic performance of the country. For example, its GDP will improve. In the same regard, government revenue will be increased in the process as it will have more taxation base. As such, it will be able to deal with its expenditures with ease (Elias, 2009).

Likewise, advanced air cargo security will also enable air cargo companies to avoid huge losses they incur whenever an attack is launched by terrorists. This will also improve their ability to compete in the global arena as they will have enough funds to invest in activities that will ensure their competitiveness. This will also have an economic benefit to the country. More and more cargos will be flowing in and out of the country. This will also result into increased trade between the United States and other countries across the globe. Increased trade also has a positive effect on the economic performance of the country (Zellan, 2013).

A terrorist attack of any nature normally leads to a country being put in a mourning state. Economic activities are normally put on hold to honor those that may have lost their lives or property in the process. This implies that time is wasted mourning the dead and consoling their loved ones. Similarly, the government spends a lot trying to ensure calm in maintained. The 9/11 attacks left the country in a mourning state with many people not knowing what next. The government had to spend a lot to deal with the disaster. Essentially, the attack had a major impact on the country economy. It was high time the government and the private sector came up with stringent measures to ensure the attack did not occur. The country could have been able to continue expanding economy without any disruption if the attack was stopped. Enhanced air cargo security could have enabled the government to achieve the same. However, the whole country had to pay the consequences (Patrick, 2014).


            There are a number of ways through which the air cargo security can be improved in the country. For one, there is the need for air cargo companies to invest a lot in research and development to come up with new ways to screen cargos and passengers in an effective manner. This will also enable them to invest a lot in new or modern technologies that have the ability to detect any unwanted materials that can be used to launch an attack. As mentioned earlier, terrorists are also investing a lot in research and development to leverage on technological advancements, hence their ability to avoid being detected during screening. As a result, air cargo companies must also emulate the same if they are to win the war against terror. It is also imperative for companies to understand the need to invest in the technology. This implies that their perception must be changed. Specifically, the perception that this is a costly process that may not payoff in the end must be changed (Price & Forrest, 2013).

In the same regard, the government through homeland security must also work closely with the private sector in the enactment of rules and regulations that will aid in dealing with the security issues facing air cargo companies (Patrick, 2014). Essentially, the input of the private sector is required to ensure the rules are more effective. The private sector has more understanding of the problems it may be facing when ensuring security. Such information is required by the government in the development of more effective policies. Similarly, this leads to the private sector developing the feeling that it is part of the solution, hence its willingness to implement the outcomes of the process. In the end, the issue will be handled in an effective as compared to what is happening in the present time (Price & Forrest, 2013).

Security awareness among air cargo employees is also imperative. Companies in the industry must invest a lot in employee training to ensure they have a good understanding of the security issues and threats. This must also be done to ensure they are able to execute their roles and duties without problems (Price & Forrest, 2013). Correspondingly, employees will be informed on how terrorist behave and ways through which they can be able to manipulate the screening process. This is a process that can aid employees to remain on high alert at times knowing the negative impacts associated with terrorist attacks. Employee training is also a strategy that can be used by air cargo companies to improve their employee motivation in relations to screening cargos and passengers. Essentially, lack of knowledge and skills in dealing with a task can be frustrating to an employee, hence low levels of motivation. Their confidence in executing their roles and duties is also affected in a negative manner in the process (Price & Forrest, 2013).

The government must also come up with standardized rules and regulations governing air cargo security. It is evident that lack of standardization has been a major problem to ensuring enhanced air cargo security. The rules must be adjusted to ensure air cargo companies find it easy to comply with them. This will also enable the government to ensure all companies in different states are complying with the same rules. The same standards in relation to security will also be ensured in the process. Equally, the government will also be able to deal with loopholes used by terrorists when executing their missions or attacks (Price & Forrest, 2013).


This report has explored a large number of the key issues related to air cargo security or lack thereof.  What emerges from the study is recognition of the complexity involved in achieving 100 percent screening (let alone 100 percent inspection of all cargo aboard Air carriers) of all cargo shipments.  The study illustrates not only the importance of ensuring that the financial wherewithal to meet these mandates for screening and inspection. But to provide oversight that our government is working with the private sector to meet the ultimate goal, zero security incidents.


Berrick, C. A. (2005). Aviation Security: Federal Action Needed To Strengthen Domestic Air Cargo Security. GAO Reports.

Blanchard, D. (2010). Too Many Holes In Air Cargo Security. (11, Ed.) Material Handling & Logistics, 65.

Elias, B. (2009). Airport and Aviation Security: U.S. Policy and Strategy in the Age of Global Terrorism. Boca Raton FL: CRC Press.

GAO Reports. (2002). Aviation Security: Vulnerabilities And Potential Improvements For The Air Cargo System. GAO, pp. 1-31.

Patrick, B. (2014). Cargo Security: Defining The Fine Print. Logistics Management , 52-54.

Price, J., & Forrest, J. ( 2013). Practical Aviation Security : Predicting and Preventing Future Threats. Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Zellan, J. (2013). Aviation security : current issues and developments. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.

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