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Monday, 10 December 2012 00:00
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Secured, safer air cargo business vital to investment drive

Air cargo business is a goldmine in  the aviation industry. But the great investment opportunities imbedded in the business is threatened globally by insecurity and safety engendered by activities of terrorists. BIODUN AKOMOLAFE writes that the nation could benefit greatly from the huge  investment opportunities inherent in the business if better  attention is  paid to security and safety.

About two weeks ago, experts and stakeholders in the nation’s air cargo business met to brainstorm on the important issue of safety and security in the sector they agreed that there is the need to get a clear direction in doing the business to ensure safety, security and improved revenue.

Speaking at the seminar organized Aero Consult Limited experts and stakeholders in the industry identified security and safety as major concerns which must  be addressed squarely if the nation has to enjoy huge investment flow associated with the air cargo business world over.

 Chief executive officer of Aero Consult, Engineer Babatunde Obadofin, the organiser of the forum had in his welcome address  implored the stakeholders and experts in the business to look at the issues for delibrations with a view to promoting and securing the business, making security and safety the watch word.

In his goodwill keynote address at the breakfast meeting the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) , Dr Harold Demuren, described air cargo operations as one of the most vulnerable aspects of aviation

He said, ''Terrorists could plant parcels with explosives in the cargoes, go away from the aircraft only for the aircraft transporting such cargoes to explode during flight operations.
''It is worthy to know that the volume of cargo being carried on passengers' aircraft has increased tremendously and this is giving all stakeholders much more concern about the security and safety,'' he said.

The NCAA boss who recalled the attempted cargo sabotage that originated from Yemen in October 2010  said the terrorists are changing their tactics by targeting cargo.  .

Dr. Demuren, who was represented by an official of the regulatory agency, Dr. Teresa Bassey, however, said that authority has installed security counter measures at the nation's airports ; this she claimed  are making it more difficult for terrorists to access the aircraft transporting cargoes and passengers in and out of the country.

Also in his speech at the breakfast meeting, representative of foreign airlines in Nigeria,  Kingsley Nwokoma, who disclosed the significant economic role that air cargo business plays in the economies of many nations,  disclosed that the sector which generates a significant income of about a quarter of the  nation’s budget  cannot but raise issue of security and safety concerns and it must protected. He noted that Nigeria needs to rise to the growth it is experiencing in the number of cargo airlines that fly into her airports and improve in facilities to commesurate the growth.

“Nigeria needs a safe apron, stressing that the aircraft has improved in every aspect both in size, while the country’s apron has remained the same, which calls for concern”
Captain Dele Ore, the President of the Aviation Round Table in his presentation at the event entitled Air Cargo Regulations: The Nigerian Experience with the Theme: Air Cargo Security and Safety observed that despite the growing economic integration and increases in trade flow, that international passenger and cargo air transport services are still highly regulated.

According to Captain Ore, just like passenger services, air cargo services are regulated by a complex web of bilateral and reciprocal Air Services Agreement (ASA) which limits the ways in which carriers can provide services and reduce trade flows. However, a significant correlation is found between liberal ASAs and higher air cargo inflows, he said.

’’ Since airlines have strong ties with their national governments and play an indirect but crucial role in the negotiations (as shown by the dual liberalization agendas stated in the Istanbul declarations made by State officials and airlines’ managers) it is crucial to identify the main cargo operators and their respective interests and logics’’, Captain Ore explained.

He noted that air cargo services are supplied by three major types of operators which include, all cargo carriers like Cargolux and companies that operate passenger and cargo services separately, such as Lufthansa Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo),as  Belly carriers are Air France KLM, Korea Air, Cathay Pacific  while and express delivery companies are carriers that are devoted to delivering packages and freight.

In his contributions, the Managing Director of the Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL)  Alhaji Oluropo Owolabi who spoke  on air cargo handling, noted that air cargo business is growing faster than air passenger. He noted that air cargo  accounts for well over 30 per cent of international trade in terms of value.

The SAHCOL boss said due to faster delivery time, air cargo is adjudged to be more secure and usually involves lower insurance costs.

According to him, airlines depend on cargo to shore up revenue as it has a higher profit margin than passenger traffic, stressing that air cargo provides chains of jobs- from Agents, Freight forwarders, Consolidators, to Ground Handling Agents.

Due to growing demand, globalization and lesser barriers to international trade, increases in air cargo volume is expected more than increases in passenger traffic, Owolabi said.

He listed some of the Safety and Security Measures in Air Cargo Handling, to include, Cargo separation and segregation,  Machine and Physical Screening of Air Cargo,  Surveillance Cameras,  Implementation of a Safety Management System (SMS),  ensuring up-to-date training of handling staff, Security escort of cargo while transporting, restricted access to operating facility and  Restricted access to aircraft.

Owolabi enumerated the benefits of doing it right in cargo business to also include, regulatory identification and certification, recognition from airlines, contribution to safer skies, reduction in damages, claims and insurance premiums, increased revenue and market share, Trade facilitation and economic growth, increase profitability, business continuity, Adequate training and re-training of staff,  more investment in equipment and infrastructure, Improved supervision and enhanced work ethics, Focus on standards and regulations, Paying greater attention to growing security challenges and risks.

According to him, safety and security elements are key factors in Air cargo handling as safer skies begin on the ground.

‘’Air cargo handling not only provides jobs and income for individuals and government, it also promotes international trade. Leaning on the numerous benefits of effective air cargo handling, it is therefore instructive to all handlers of air cargo to do it right and, do it safe!’’

Speaking from the point of reasoning of an aviation security expert, the Head of AVSEC Department of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA) Ademola Oladele in his presentation who observed that safer skies begins on the ground noted that safety and security elements are key factors in Air cargo handling..

Arguing that Air cargo handling does not only provides jobs and income for individuals and government, Oladele added that it also promotes international trade, when one consideres the many benefits  of secured and safe air cargo handling, adding that it is important that handlers of air cargo must handle the job with utmost attention.

He listed attempted Cargo sabotage to include, the incident that occurred on the 29th of October, 2010 where two packages containing explosives were intercepted (UK & UAE).

According to him, the first was discovered as a United Postal Service (UPS) aircraft which had stopped to refuel at East Midlands Airport in the UK while flying from Yemen to Chicago, while the second device was discovered at a FedEx cargo facility in Dubai in the UAE.

He said the device had been transported on Qatar Airways from Yemen to Qatar and then to the UAE, nothing that both originated from Yemen.

‘’The IED discovered in the UK has been described as a converted ink toner cartridge containing white powder and had wires staking out from the bag. The IED discovered in the UAE has been described as a computer printer whose ink contained explosive material. The device was professionally prepared with an electrical circuit linked to a mobile telephone (SIM) card concealed in the printer

‘’Aviation security is everybody’s business. Cargo security is not left out as it poses one of the most vulnerability in the aviation industry. Cargo could neither talk nor complain. It is our duty to stem all avenues that can easily be explored to sabotage the counter measures in place.

There is no doubt that there is no perfect system as the weakest link of the chain is often explored to perpetuate acts of unlawful interference. We should all join hands to ensure safe and secure air cargo operations at our airports .

Oladele explained further that no such standardized and systematic implementation of industry counter-measures was introduced to deal with cargo until recently.

When cargo is to be screened, it is easier to do before consolidation, and before the cargo is delivered to the aircraft operator, he noted.

The Head of AVSEC Department of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority disclosed that State should evaluate the level of threat against all international civil aviation operating from within that State, because the appropriate authority would receive this information and transmit to the industry as much as is needed in order to apply appropriate security measures.