- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

As this year's busy holiday season comes to an end, travelers have inevitably experienced the strict safety improvements that were implemented during the past year-and-a-half at airports and on aircraft nationwide. From aggressive bag scanning systems to tighter identification requirements for both passengers and employees, there is no question that passenger aviation has been fortified. Although more legislation affecting aviation security was proposed and passed into law in this congressional session than in any other in U.S. history, most of it was designed to increase security and procedures in passenger aviation only, leaving another critical sector cargo completely out of the security equation.
At first glance, cargo aviation may not seem like a security problem, but in fact, therein lies one of the most serious security lapses in our fight against terrorism. For example, about 60 percent of all U.S. air cargo flies on passenger planes, but only about five percent is required to undergo screening for dangerous items. While this lack of cargo screening continues to be a security oversight in passenger aviation, it sheds light on a much bigger problem Congress and the Administration must address.
In reality, cargo aircraft pose an even greater threat and could be more destructive than passenger airliners due to their size and fuel capacity. Cargo planes also carry packages that are subject to minimal screening and are operated in scarcely secured parts of the airport.
One only needs to look at the incident that occurred in December in Fargo, North Dakota to see how vulnerable cargo aircraft are. A woman jumped a fence protecting the perimeter of the cargo airport and climbed into an UPS plane ready for take-off. Luckily, the woman was detained by UPS personnel before she caused any damage, but the vulnerability is the same.
Yet time and time again, the cargo sector has been excluded from critical security improvements. The most recent example of cargo aviation's exclusion from enhanced security measures was the passage of the Homeland Security bill in November. With that bill, Congress only granted passenger pilots the right to bear arms, despite repeated requests from cargo pilots. This is yet another in a long line of examples where cargo aircraft were line-itemed out of new security legislation.
Every instance in which the cargo sector is excluded from new security measures provides another opportunity for terrorists to strike is created. It is a simple fact: Excluding cargo aviation from these new measures not only defeats our defense priorities, but also creates a road map for terrorists to use in wreaking havoc. If we are only as safe as our weakest link, Congress' continual exclusion of cargo and cargo aircraft from improved aviation security measures presents a tremendous risk to our nation's safety.
As President of the Independent Pilots Association, the union of pilots who fly for United Parcel Service (UPS), I not only worry about the vulnerable position in which cargo aviation has been placed, but more importantly, about the impact this could have on the safety of Americans. Until Congress and the Administration commit themselves to address the security loopholes present in the cargo-aviation sector, Americans will remain vulnerable to further breaches of their safety and security.
Consequently, only real action will eradicate the existing vulnerability and truly secure our nation's skies. When Congress reconvenes later this month, it is crucial that they make it a priority to close this loophole and adopt consistent security standards across the board, including promised alterations to the Homeland Security bill.
Addressing this issue now will protect our great nation from future harm and fortify what is currently our weakest link.

Capt. Bob Miller is president of the Independent Pilots Association.

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