By Brian Dunn

As of October 17th, all air cargo in Canada must be screened before being loaded onto an aircraft, a major topic of discussion at the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association’s (CIFFA) annual meeting in Montreal on June 16. This statement was among the opening remarks of a panel whose members included Wendy Nixon, Director, Aviation Security Program Development, Transport Canada, Lise-Marie Turpin, Vice President, Air Canada Cargo, and Rob Thorndyke, President, Atlantis Transportation Services.

Transport Canada is “very conscious” that anything they do will have an impact on costs, according to Wendy Nixon. “There is a heavy emphasis on the regulatory process to ensure costs don’t outweigh the benefits on the security side. There will be better international alignment on secure cargo and data information. And as we move towards a secure system, we hope to simplify the process and not affect speed.”

Air Canada feels it is the right way to go in terms of compliance with other jurisdictions like the United States and European Union for the smooth flow of goods, said Lise-Marie Turpin. “We’re concerned about the readiness of the industry and the whole supply chain. It’s difficult to get any clarity on where we stand. There could be a weak link in the supply chain which concerns us. If we have to screen 50 or 60 per cent more (than we do currently), how will it impact efficiency?” The industry will eventually get there, but it’s a matter of timing and involves a major capital expenditure in an environment where all the major players are strained financially, Ms. Turpin added.

The airfreight industry has the same concerns as the airlines, according to Rob Thorndyke. “We looked at it a long time ago and we’ve ordered the (screening) machines and have agents set up in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.”

Transport Canada has a mutual recognition with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. What it is pushing for is a full supply chain recognition with the U.S. What is missing south of the border is the “trucking piece,” said Ms. Nixon.

“Every regulatory body has its wants. As an industry, we’re pushing for standardization on what data points need to be transmitted (to other jurisdictions) to move the flow of goods as quickly as possible,” said Ms. Turpin.

Are there new technologies being developed to help with air cargo security? CIFFA Executive Director Ruth Snowden asked the three panelists.

“There’s not so much new screening technology as improvements on the software side compared to the hardware side,” said Ms. Nixon. Canine screening is something Transport Canada is looking at for explosive detection. “It’s not only an emerging area in Canada, but internationally as well. But it’s tough to set up a canine program in terms of the application and certification process. We are working closely with the U.K. and France in this area.”

Air Canada is trying to enhance the quality of data for real time information, said Ms. Turpin, while every truck in North America will soon be electronically logged instead of paper-logged to ensure their cargo is legal. Unlike paper logs, electronic logs cannot be tampered with, said Mr. Thorndyke.

The three panelists were also asked what impact drones or airships might have on the air cargo industry.

“The technology exists and it’s quite exciting. In Eastern Europe there is a (transportation) technology that can carry 10 tonnes of cargo,” said Ms. Turpin. “It will open new markets like remote communities in the far north where it is difficult to transport food.”

There will be driverless trucks within the next five to ten years, predicted Mr. Thorndyke while, as a regulator, the government needs to review all new technology, added Ms. Nixon. “But regulations shouldn’t prevent new technologies from being introduced. We just have to ensure they’re safe and secure. There is also the subject of cyber security as transportation becomes more focused on electronic models and systems.”

What is the industry doing to make cargo shipping more compliant for inbound cargo from emerging markets which is a bigger threat than Canadian shippers, CIFFA President Jeff Cullen wondered?

For inbound cargo, the industry must take full advantage of the information that is available from our trading partners to make sure what is coming in is safe and secure, suggested Ms. Nixon. “We have to target more high risk areas. It may be difficult if our trading partners don’t see risks the same way as we do.”

Is air cargo a good game to be in, Ms. Snowden asked?

Our needs as a society are changing as is e-commerce, as our trade flows change, noted Ms. Turpin. Japanese automakers, for example, are setting up manufacturing facilities in Mexico to be closer to their markets. “But there will always be a need for air cargo as lots of parts need to be flown around.”

The next five to ten years will be challenging, but it’s an “addictive business,” said Mr. Thorndyke.

“It’s a very dynamic industry revolving around change. We have to make sure goods get through the system without any disruptions,” suggested Ms. Nixon. “This association plays an important role to move the dialog along.”