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Jim Hall Addresses the Air Cargo Symposium

So, here we are, exactly 1,311 days since September 11, 2001.

What did we learn from the events of that horrible day?

We learned our enemy is patient. We learned that he studies our transportation system. We learned that he waits until he finds a vulnerability, and then our enemy strikes and attacks.

We learned all of that, and we have made progress on some of the things that were obvious, most notably in our passenger aviation system.

And of course that was the right thing to do.

But we've also learned how far we have to go in the area of cargo security. The fact is, no effective cargo program exists.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

I usually bring up that quote when I'm speaking to people who need to be convinced of the importance of public safety - corporate executives who don't understand just what it means to develop a safety culture, or legislators and appointees who seem to value private interest over the public good.

In my eight years as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, I saw too many accidents, too many tragedies because companies didn't embrace a safety culture, didn't take the initiative. Government agencies and public servants had conflicts of interest that prevented them from doing the right thing. And there was a lack of accountability in both private industry and government.

I see the same failures and vulnerabilities when I look at the state of air cargo security.

In the aftermath of September 11, we've seen dramatic changes in the passenger aviation system in this country. Where once the industry claimed that it would be too expensive or too time-consuming to train screeners, or match passengers with bags, or screen all luggage - even after the tragedies of Pan Am Flight 103 and TWA Flight 800 - all of those things are being done now as a matter of routine. Of course, we can debate the successes or failures of these changes, but there has at least been action because the hijackings were perceived as attacks on passenger planes, not aircraft in general.

But the events of September 11 proved that whether the planes are passenger planes or cargo planes makes no difference to a terrorist, and it should make no difference to us.

The key piece of legislation enacted in the wake of 9/11 was the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001. It called for the Transportation Security Administration to have a system in place as soon as practicable to screen, inspect, or otherwise ensure the security of cargo on all-cargo aircraft.

Here we are, more than three and a half years later, and where do we stand? The TSA's primary means of inspecting cargo on all-cargo aircraft is not an inspection at all but rather a reliance on the dubious "known shipper" program, a program, to paraphrase the late President Reagan, that asks us to trust, but fails to verify.

If we have learned nothing else from what went wrong on September 11, it's this: Look what happens when everybody pulls in different directions and nobody is accountable for anything. For years and years, special commissions had pointed to critical flaws in our aviation security systems. But as soon as those recommendations were made, you had everybody in the airline industry and everybody in Washington looking out for what they perceived to be their own interests, and nobody was working together to get anything meaningful accomplished. Of course, what everyone realized after it was too late is that when you have everyone protecting their own turf, in reality no one is protected. We were all left vulnerable, and we know what happened.

So, I ask you. When we know that the threats to air cargo security are as real and as dangerous as the threats to passenger aviation, why do glaring holes still exist? We're not even in the public discussion, and I'll tell you why. It's the same reason as when I was chairman of the NTSB, and we made many recommendations for air cargo safety, but they didn't generate much public awareness and they weren't implemented. We all know why - because enough people weren't killed. That sounds cold, but we know it's true. So the only way we're going to get air cargo security on the public agenda is if we do it ourselves.

We don't have to look too far to see an example of progress.

In the maritime trade, which like air cargo has an international scope, advancements in cargo security are coming relatively quickly. I tell you, a lot of this progress has come because of my friend Admiral Loy's years at the Coast Guard before heading up the TSA. Maybe we need to lobby to get our own representative as part of the TSA. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting on-site compliance inspections of more than 3,000 port facilities and 9,200 vessels in the U.S. More encouraging, since 9/11, electronic ship identification systems, ship and port facility plans, port security assessments, and mobile gamma ray imaging devices have all been implemented. The U.S. Customs Service has entered into agreements with other nations to pre-screen maritime cargo before it is shipped to the U.S. Certainly the maritime experience has not been perfect, but I do believe it is an example of how incremental progress can be made when stakeholders cooperate.

I've been in your shoes many times, sitting in the audience and thinking, what this guy is saying is all rhetoric, it can't really be done.

During my tenure as chair of NTSB, we made a number of safety improvements, including improvements in TCASS and enhanced GPWS. At the time, this technology was primitive, but the through persistence and cooperation these systems were developed and integrated into the aircraft. As a result, the overall safety of aviation was greatly improved. We don't even think about these things now, they're just a standard part of how things are done, but at the time, the naysayers said it was too expensive and couldn't be done. I hear the same sort of thing out of the cargo industry today with regard to increased security.

I'd venture to say most of you drive a car. Let me tell you how I moved the automobile industry, beginning in 1996, when children were being killed by airbags in the front seat or because they weren't secured in properly fitting child safety seats in the back seat. At that time, the auto industry refused to invest in either second-generation airbags or in the safe installation of safety seats for children.

Well, with a little arm-twisting and public pressure we now have second generation airbags in all of our cars, and parents routinely strap their kids into effective child safety seats in the backs of their vehicles. And the car companies now go out of the way to tout just how safe their vehicles are. I don't say this to make myself sound important; I say it to show that change is possible.

But to bring about change, the first thing we need to do is decide on the key messages we are going to sell to the American people.

We all know that the known shipper program has serious flaws.

Given the vulnerability of cargo to tampering at various points before it is loaded into an aircraft, and the outdated notion that a known identity is somehow safer than an unknown one - the 9/11 hijackers didn't hide their identities, after all - the known shipper program is wholly inadequate.

What does it actually do? What security does it actually provide? Does it really tell us who's shipping something, or just that the person sending the package had access to a known shipper's supplies? Does it screen for anthrax, or biochemicals, or bombs, or hazardous materials, or a nuclear device? Can it even keep a person from shipping himself in a box? We know the answer to that one.

Some contend that the sheer volume of air cargo precludes comprehensive screening programs. We must reject this notion. Known shipper has got to be either strengthened, as it has been in maritime, or scrapped. We know the current program doesn't work and it has no teeth, but how many American citizens even know what it is? We need to educate the American people on how foolish it is to rely on known shipper to provide us any level of comfort.

Second, we need to define a specific, uniform program for security training and background checks for everyone involved in handling air cargo, from delivery personnel to airport cargo handlers to flight crews. They've done it on the commercial side, why have we not even begun to implement this on the cargo side?

And third, we need to agree on what technologies make the most sense to invest in. I'd suggest that there are some that are already being used on the passenger side that could be enhanced at a relatively low cost to provide added security on the cargo side. Let's use the experience gained and the lessons learned on the passenger side since 9/11 to our advantage.

And when we've defined our messages, we need to stand up and tell the industry and the shippers along with government that they need to invest in all this to ensure the safety of not just your brothers and sisters in the cockpits,but the industry itself, and the American citizens on the ground.

Security, like safety, is a powerful message. It's something each and every American wants. But we have got to explain why there is this glaring hole in our security program and how tempting it is for terrorists to exploit.

We've already had our wake-up call. We cannot wait for another September 11 to happen before we act.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


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