3 Key Attributes Air carriers Must Look for in an Air Cargo Screening Provider

Jason GrayBy Jason Gray, Canine Training Manager

With a major regulatory change transitioning the industry, many air carriers are seeking compliance and in need of new partners and systems.

After the extended June 30 deadline earlier this Summer, all International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) member states must be working to ensure all international air cargo transported on commercial aircraft (passenger and freight) is screened to a level intended to identify and/or detect the presence of concealed explosive devices.

This major regulatory shift is drastically altering international air cargo safety screening standards. Under the new rules, every single piece of cargo must now be screened for explosives before any aircraft takes off. This is no small undertaking, considering worldwide air freight traffic has increased. This rate of increase isn’t expected to decrease anytime soon as fast delivery timelines on online orders have become the norm and expectation from consumers.

As we’ve discussed previously, canines represent by far the fastest and most effective way to screen cargo for explosives. When it comes to identifying explosives, no technology or human method has been proven to match the speed, efficiency, effectiveness, or scalability of a well-trained canine screening solution. Before the Third-Party Canine Cargo Program (3PK9) was established … to help relieve the burden on forwarders and airlines screening cargo on passenger aircraft, the only available options were X-ray machines, explosive trace detection and physical search at the item level. (source) …

3PK Horizontal Cargo Search II-1

As such, canine solutions are now in high demand as the industry adjusts to the new ICAO rules. Air carriers seeking a canine solution must be selective in which provider they choose.

When selecting your canine solutions provider, it is important to screen for the following three key attributes:

  1. Expertise – As companies face a much more rigorous and controlled screening process, it is important to select a canine solutions provider that has both the regulatory expertise, operational knowledge, and efficient systems in place to support your new screening operations. State-of-the-art video and digital tracking software is another critical component of efficient and effective explosive detection. By leveraging specialized software and wireless video technology to record, document, and provide in-depth analysis of screening activity, air carriers can ensure their efforts are meeting regulatory requirements.
  2. Agility – Timing and efficiency matters. To remain complaint, air carriers need to implement a canine explosives screening solution on a massive scale in a very short timeframe. The solution still needs to be cost effective given the scale, however, time is money in this industry. When it comes to explosive detection, research has proven canines to be the most time and cost efficient method, not to mention portable —bringing the right amount of agility to an operation where minutes, even seconds, matter in the search processes and response. Sgt. Paul Caissie of Air Canada Centre Toronto’s police dog services estimates one dog searches more effectively than 10 officers. (source, Toronto Star)

    Air carriers must select canine service providers that are able to quickly assess their needs and swiftly provide solutions that are built to their specific requirements. Failure to do so can result in slowed operations, frustrated customers, lost revenue, and most importantly a major compromise in safety. One might think that technology would win in this area, to bring the fastest solution with minimal room for errors and corrections, however an important study by Turkish firm Gozen Security captured a comparison in screening times for TSA approved air cargo screening methods [presented by Onur Zeyrek at the IATA AVSEC World Conference, February 27, 2019] determining the most time-efficient method amongst Dual View X-Ray, Explosive Trace Detection (ETD), and Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD). The first two options outlined timing in controlled environments of: 1.) Dual View X-Ray, which starts when the skid is placed on the conveyor belt and ends once the skids has exited the viewer and 2.) ETD which starts with the unpacking of the shipment and finishes with the repacking of the shipment. Both require well-trained teams to unpack, examine, and pack the items/skids. When managed on a large scale ETD search of 20 skids or more containing electronics was deemed unfeasible. And, the X-ray machines brought a larger margin of error or inconclusive reads (anomalies), requiring further investigation and time to review when mechanical devices, parts or electronics were part of the cargo. In today’s world with technology all around us, and as a major commodity, this is an inevitable burden that will play out during the use of X-ray in many cases. With this real world comparison, canine cargo screening was a clear winner, 51.8% more efficient than X-ray for the screening of mechanical parts and 47.5% more efficient when screening Electronics.


Chart: Time comparison between Canines and Dual-View X-Ray to completely screen 20 skids by material/content type

Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD) can swiftly screen a cargo shipment in minutes, while X-rays or trace detection could take hours. Trained canines are alert and able to examine the cargo without interfering with their environment. They have an estimated 300 million sensory receptors in their nose (source), making them extremely sensitive to odor detection and skilled at their jobs.

  1. Strong Track Record – Air carriers must choose a canine solutions provider with a long history of success training and leveraging dogs to detect explosives in a variety of different environments. With a leadership team of experts working for more than 30 years training canines to meet explosive detection needs, SOC Canine Solutions have successfully supplied hundreds of canine teams globally in the protection of personnel, facilities, and assets. In addition to serving the private sector, our canine solutions group has experience supporting the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Energy, and the Intelligence Community with turn-key canine solutions.

Choose Wisely

As air carriers seek to become compliant with the new ICAO rules, explosive detection canines will undoubtedly play a critical role in these ongoing efforts. Operators must be selective when choosing a solutions provider to ensure their needs are met in a timely and effective manner.

At SOC, we have been monitoring this situation and working with air cargo entities to help the industry prepare for this new safety standard. Our Canine Solutions Team is at the ready to provide air carriers with turnkey canine solutions to address this new standard.

Reach out to us today to find out more about how we can help your organization stay compliant.

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