- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Airlines carrying cargo say their customers likely will have to pay more because of the costs of increased security from new government regulations, although they expect those increases to be small.

The Transportation Security Administration on Monday ordered the airlines to randomly search a certain percentage of their cargo. TSA officials refused to publicly disclose how much of the cargo must by inspected because of security concerns.

Nevertheless, the airline industry said any new costs or delays could influence service to customers.

“Government, airlines and consumers probably will have to pay more to enhance security, but that’s just going to have to be,” said Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, a trade group for cargo airlines. “One more incident and we’re in trouble.”

Random searches are most important for passenger airlines because of the risk they represent in a terrorist attack, Mr. Alterman said. Passenger airlines carry nearly one quarter of the nation’s air cargo in the holds of their passenger flights.

Eventually, he said, the TSA should search cargo categorized as high risk under a profiling system. The TSA is developing a profiling system that gives each piece of cargo a “risk score.”

Random searches should be an “interim” security strategy, Mr. Alterman said.

David Bolger, UPS spokesman, said, “It’s too early to tell” how required random searches would affect the package-delivery company’s service.

“These measures will have an impact because we’re enhancing security,” he said. “Anytime you enhance security, there could be an impact.”

However, he said UPS has a 1,000-person security staff that already takes many of the precautions ordered by the TSA.

“Although we are not comfortable with all the provisions in the directive, we feel we are in a pretty good position to implement the majority of the elements,” Mr. Bolger said.

UPS delivers 2 million packages or documents daily in the United States and 3.4 billion annually worldwide. It operates 257 of its own cargo airplanes and charters 344 more during peak times, such as the current Christmas shipping season.

Checks of air freight have been spotty since the September 11 attacks, with some airlines doing limited inspecting and others doing little or none.

Critics believe the laxity leaves open the possibility terrorists could use packages to sneak explosives or even hijackers onto planes, similar to the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing that killed 270 persons in December 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Earlier this month, the Homeland Security Department warned that al Qaeda might be plotting to fly cargo planes from another country into such U.S. targets as nuclear plants, bridges or dams.

The TSA plans to supervise the inspections, which will begin after Christmas.

TSA chief James Loy said in a written summary prepared for Congress that it is difficult to inspect all cargo because “limitations of technology and infrastructure make such an undertaking impractical.”

The TSA also is requiring 15 foreign cargo airlines to file security plans with the federal government, describing their efforts to control access to freight and aircraft. U.S. airlines and non-U.S. passenger carriers already file the plans.

Some members of Congress have pressed for more stringent cargo protection, especially for freight carried on passenger planes. They believe cargo in the hold represents a danger that cannot be overcome by only screening passengers and luggage.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said Monday that random inspections of unknown cargo on passenger planes “provides only slightly more security to passengers than the security system in place before September 11, 2001.”

Criticism intensified in September when a New York shipping clerk packed himself in a crate and flew undetected to Dallas.

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