TSA says all cargo on domestic flights now screened

The agency continues to face problems in checking freight flying into the United States from other countries.

The Transportation Security Administration now screens all cargo loaded on domestic passenger aircraft, but it can't apply the same program to international flights without slowing commerce, a TSA spokesman said on Tuesday.

TSA partnered with the shipping and aviation industry to partially meet a requirement of the 2007 Implementing Recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Act, known as the 9/11 act, to screen all U.S.-bound cargo. The agency announced on Monday that all cargo traveling on domestic and outbound international flights is being screened either by the airlines or by participants in the Certified Cargo Screening Program, which allows specific facilities nationwide to check freight before it reaches an airport.

The agency continues to face challenges screening cargo arriving to the United States from other countries, according to a report the Government Accountability Office released in June.

"To mandate 100 percent international inbound air cargo screening would significantly impact [the flow of] commerce," said Greg Soule, TSA spokesman. "We did not expect to meet the international inbound mandate, but will continue to work with the airlines and international partners to work toward that goal," perhaps by recognizing international screening programs that meet U.S. standards.

All checked passenger baggage has been screened starting shortly after 9/11, and all cargo flying on narrow-body aircraft -- which make up 88 percent of all passenger flights -- has been screened since 2008. The latest milestone applies specifically to cargo that was often placed on pallets and shrink-wrapped and then loaded onto wide-body aircraft. Airlines now mandate that cargo arriving at their facilities not be loaded on pallets and shrink-wrapped unless it has been screened by a participant in the certified cargo screening program. Carriers also have invested in explosive detection systems to screen cargo for bombs, as well as explosive trace detection systems that test cargo for dangerous substances.

Soule said TSA will continue to develop two more initiatives to improve security: the Secure Flight program, which would require airlines to collect passengers' date of birth and gender when they make flight reservations so the agency can compare the information to data stored on the terrorist watch list, and the deployment of imaging technology.

About 160 advanced imaging units toscreen passengers at security checkpoints have been installed in 43 airports, and TSA expects to have placed nearly 500 by the end of the year and another 500 in 2011, Soule said. "Beyond air cargo, which was a significant step forward in aviation security, [these two efforts] have both been significant developments in recent months," he said.