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Sat, Nov 08, 2008

TSA Begins Explosives Screening For Packages Onboard Narrowbodies

Larger Air Freight Must Be Screened By 2010

Commercial airliners have carried cargo packages for years, allowing airlines to make money on what otherwise would be empty baggage compartments. And starting last month, most of those packages are now screened for explosives.

"This is a very significant step for security," said TSA spokesman Christopher White.

The Transportation Security Administration implemented cargo screening on all packages carried onboard narrowbody, single-aisle airliners last month, reports USA Today. Packages transported in the baggage holds of larger widebody aircraft are slated to undergo similar screening by early 2010.

The staggered timeframe reflects both the different types of cargo transported on small and large planes, as well as the number of packages being transported. While over 90 percent of domestic flights are handled by narrowbody aircraft, they only transport about 25 percent of all air freight.

Due to the relatively small size of narrowbody baggage compartments, only small-to-medium size packages will fit onboard. Those packages may be anything from perishable flowers and food items, cancelled bank checks and Federal Reserve notes, computers, auto parts... the list goes on.

Those items may all be sent through conventional X-ray and bomb detection machines used for regular checked luggage. In comparison, freight carried on larger widebody aircraft is loaded into five-by-five-foot shipping pallets -- transferable between passenger aircraft and dedicated freight-hauling airliners -- which must then be screened by larger machines.

Airlines handle most cargo screening duties at 80 large and midsized airports using equipment to detect explosives residue, according to Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter. TSA screeners are responsible for screening checked luggage and air freight originating from over 370 smaller airports.

"The American flying public should be happy and secure in the knowledge that every package that goes on narrowbody flights is screened," said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association.

Future plans call for manufacturers to handle some screening duties at the time of shipping, to reduce the workload on airport personnel. The Congressionally-mandated deadline for all air cargo to be screened, regardless of size, is February 2010.

FMI: www.tsa.gov, www.airlines.org

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