In 1986, a bomb that was planted in the forward belly compartment of a Boeing 747-121 exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland. The explosive device was placed in a suitcase in Malta and was transferred to Pan Am in Frankfurt by a method known as an “interline transfer”. This being a common practise in which airlines could transfer baggage and cargo from one flight to another on the field.
The person who made and planted the bomb was a former airline employee who had knowledge of this system and took advantage of it.
Currently the airlines are faced with a volume of cargo that is so vast that the airlines and personnel just can not check every piece of freight. In the USA, the Transportation Security Administration does not have either the experience or people to insure proper cargo security. The big cargo operators, Fed Ex, UPS, Emery, DHL etc, have adequate security in place to prevent mishaps. They operate their own airplanes and have much more to lose.
However, the major carriers just dont have the people, equipment or time to inspect cargo being loaded on their airplanes. This is an accident or opportunity waiting to happen. The TSA is seriously understaffed, and concentrate on passenger loadings, trusting the airlines to maintain their own security of freight. As of now, the TSA is not hiring people to work freight, in fact there is a “hiring freeze” in effect.
The current air cargo program involves the known shipper program. This gives the public the impression that someone is watching the freight being tendered to the air carriers. This in-direct cargo program regulates the actions and safeguards of those air freight forwarders who depend on the major airlines to provide service. There are loopholes in this in-direct cargo program which can like Lockerbie result in terror and destruction.
For example, many of these air freight forwarders, utilize third party transportation for pick-ups and deliverys between the shippers and the airport. These third party carriers are not effected by the in-direct program since they are not considered as an agent to the shipper, and only servicing under contract to the air freight forwarder. Some of these air freight forwarders dont even see the freight, and depend on the third party carriers warehousing facilities. In short, there are no regulations in effect nor any enforcement if there were.
The problems are, that many of these third party trucking companies hire ex-convicts and other dubious types to handle the transportation and warehousing/handling of the freight. Most of the management of these outfits care only about their profits and could easily be used car salesmen as a logical career upgrade. They use these Ex-convicts to drop freight to the airport. Who’s to stop one of these guys from making a detour to switch a piece of freight? Thats a Lockerbie waiting to happen.
The Airports need to certify all drivers dropping freight, by having official ID Cards. The third party carriers and their warehouses must conform to the in-direct carrier programs, with very high fines for each and every violation. There are many other safeguards to be suggested and implemented to insure public safety, that do not involve the TSA or the airlines.
The industry should have the common sense to put this safety as a priority – before it gets to the airport.