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House bill calls for all cargo on planes to be inspected

The rules face opposition from transporters.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published January 9, 2007


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House members could pass a sweeping homeland security measure today that would mandate inspections of all cargo carried in passenger planes.

The bill, a top priority for newly empowered House Democrats, is expected to pass.

But its future beyond that is unclear, with the air transportation industry warning that inspecting all cargo in airliners for explosives would slow down delivery of time-sensitive goods.

After winning midterm elections in November, Democrats pledged to implement all recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The 277-page bill filed Friday encompasses a wide range of issues. It would change how federal homeland security funds are distributed between localities, give appeal rights to passengers wrongly identified as security risks and require screening of all shipping containers overseas headed for U.S. ports.

The government has adopted about half of the 9/11 commission's recommendations from 2004, said Timothy J. Roemer, a former Indiana congressman who served on the panel.

"If this bill passes, it will be a promising and hopeful step toward finishing the job of making our country safer," he said Monday.

In a report card released in December, the 10-member bipartisan panel gave Congress and the Bush administration a "D" on inspecting cargo on passenger planes.

U.S. airliners carry about 6-billion pounds of cargo a year, from human tissue to fresh seafood to critical machinery parts.

Cargo airlines such as FedEx and UPS haul about 75 percent of air freight. Because they don't carry passengers, those airlines would be not be required to inspect cargo under the law.

Airline and government officials don't say how much cargo on passenger planes is screened by bomb-sniffing dogs, explosive-detection machines or handling by a cargo inspector. Media reports put the number at 10 to 15 percent.

There isn't a single technology that can handle all goods, said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, whose members move cargo from businesses to airlines.

"We're concerned this requirement is going to slow down the flow of commerce as a result," he said.

That also worries Tim Hennessy, president of EkkWill Waterlife Resources of Gibsonton. The south Hillsborough fish farm ships 100 tons of tropical fish by commercial airline to pet shops and chain retailers from Tampa International Airport each month.

Like all shippers, his business files voluminous paperwork with airlines about their shipments.

The government relies largely on security checks into shippers like EkkWill and making sure airlines follow procedures to assure the identities of drivers. Federal inspectors make spot checks of air cargo.

"I don't think air cargo is as vulnerable as people think," said Hennessy. "This is a lot of politics."

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

 

 

[Last modified January 9, 2007, 00:39:47]


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