According to the Washington, D.C.-based Airforwarders Association, direct participation in ACAS among its smaller forwarder members is minimal at best.
“As of today, most of our small to medium-sized members report their agents overseas are using the airlines to complete the filing on their behalf with only a few directly connected to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) for the purpose,” said Brandon Fried, the association’s executive director.
Fried said the association has supported regulatory measures to enhance air cargo security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and generally backs the purpose of ACAS.
CBP has stated that it wants ACAS data from the most knowledgeable party in the air cargo transaction and who can provide that data accurately and on time.
Philadelphia-based BDP International, one of the program’s earliest forwarder participants which prepares and files its own ACAS filings to CBP, often runs into problems convincing airlines not to file on its behalf and then billing it for the service.
“The forwarder is the best source of the data, a comment that CBP has already stated,” said Michael Ford, BDP’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs. “What happens if the forwarder’s data is correct and the airline incorrectly files the wrong data on the exact shipment? Who does CBP believe? This causes double work and does not help the forwarder in any way.”
ACAS was developed jointly by CBP and the Transportation Security Administration as a pilot program in late 2010 after terrorists in Yemen attempted to plant printer cartridges laden with explosives on board cargo aircraft.
The first participants were the express carriers and the pilot grew to include all facets of the air cargo industry, including passenger and all-cargo plane operators and forwarders. ACAS shifted from pilot to full implementation on June 12, 2018.
ACAS participants must provide CBP seven shipment data elements, including names and addresses of the shipper and consignee, total package count and weight, and cargo description, as well as the air waybill number. The information, which does not have to be 100 percent clean of typos, is transmitted much earlier than other data required for regular customs clearance. ACAS data should be transmitted prior to consolidation and loading the cargo on an aircraft.
The goal of ACAS is to allow CBP to perform “risk-based” targeting on the data well before the cargo is placed on board a U.S.-bound aircraft.
Asset-based express carriers and large forwarders with their own global networks have generally had an easier time implementing ACAS for their inbound air cargo operations.
On its website, CBP said the benefits for forwarders participating in ACAS include:
• Facilitating forwarder business operations by increasing consolidation lead times through improved visibility into which shipments require enhanced screening;
• And increasing security by leveraging Department of Homeland Security threat data and other information to use a risk-based approach through targeted screening.
If a shipment requires additional screening, CBP said the forwarder will receive an email or phone call “as soon as possible” to pull and screen the shipment under its National Cargo Screening Program or through authorized representative of the airline.
“Where a freight forwarder is not able to perform the enhanced screening, the forwarder should communicate the ACAS disposition of the cargo to the carrier and the carrier will perform the screening,” CBP said.