Asian airlines cry foul over US security plan for cargo
Asian airlines are raising concerns over the possible implementation by the United States of more stringent security measures on air freight carried in the bellies of passenger aircraft amid heightened fears over terrorism.
Airlines said the US needed to consult with the industry before unilaterally adopting stricter security measures, especially in light of reports that it was considering a total ban on all belly-hold cargo.
International Air Transport Association regional director Andrew Drysdale said: 'I know the issue has been discussed in the US. If the measure is imposed, the financial impact for carriers is enormous. We encourage maximum consultation before it gets any further.'
The key issue for Asian airlines is that they typically carry much more belly freight than US carriers. This has led to charges that the moves are a thinly veiled tool for protectionism.
'Many of the routes that [Asian carriers] fly would not exist were it not for the cargo in the bellies. The revenues from belly-hold cargo often mean the difference between profit and loss on many routes,' said an executive from a Asian carrier.
Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) technical director Leroy Keith said most of the US deliberations would be confidential. But he said the impact on Asia if belly freight were banned would extend far beyond airlines and affect Asian shippers and US consumers.
Washington has tightened security measures for cargo transport under the Cargo Security Initiative (CSI) for sea freight after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last year.
CSI was launched in January, stationing US Customs inspectors at major foreign seaports to screen cargo containers before they are shipped to the US.
The initiative has been contentious since its launch as shippers outside the US have largely borne the cost of its implementation.
The group set up to administer the CSI, called the Transportation Security Administration, has begun to consider imposing stricter security measures on air freight based on the same reasons for implementing the initiative.
A US consular spokeswoman in Hong Kong said US Customs did not, as yet, have any specific programme for aviation security similar to the CSI.
A recent report in the AAPA's official publication, Orient Aviation, quoted KLM Cargo executive vice-president Michael Wisbrun as saying the introduction of such security rules on airlines would have major consequences.
Mr Wisbrun said half the air cargo flown around the world travelled in the bellies of passenger aircraft and was worth more than US$10 billion in extra revenue to airlines every year.
'That cargo is important on passenger flights to 80 per cent of all destinations and over 90 per cent of all frequencies. Around 50 per cent of the US$10 billion is contributory to airline fixed costs,' Mr Wisbrun said in the report. 'If it is banned, a lot of destinations will just stop being served because without the income from the belly-hold cargo, the routes will simply become uneconomic to operate.'
Officials from Japan Airlines (JAL) and Korean Airlines (KAL), two key cargo carriers in the region, said they were monitoring the situation. Half of JAL's cargo throughput is carried in the bellies of passenger aircraft.
'If belly cargo is banned in flights going to the US, that can present a problem. But indications, so far, don't show that the US would adopt such a measure. It's purely speculation at the moment,' JAL spokesman Geoffrey Tudor said.
Mr Tudor said JAL continued to follow security guidelines introduced by the Federal Aviation Administration after September 11 last year.
These guidelines said airlines should hold all cargo shipments to be carried in passenger aircraft for 24 hours in warehouses for inspection and verification.
Though Asian airlines have not received any notification requiring additional security measures, a KAL spokesman said he expected the carrier would face more stringent regulations given that restrictions had already been imposed on US-based shippers.
Half of all air cargo travels in the bellies of passenger aircraft
Belly cargo is worth more than US$10 billion every year
If it is banned, some routes will become financially unviable