Hong Kong has been constantly in the news during the past weeks because of the continued unrest among its population who in the majority are worried about China’s plans for the area. The airport has also been a target for protests and resulting disruptions for flights in and out of Chep Lap Kok.
New screening rules could cost dearly
The recent decision to have all cargo X-rayed which passes through the airport has caught both shippers and freight forwarders by surprise. All the more so as nobody can determine at the moment exactly what the extra cost will be.
A four-phase introduction of mandatory X-ray is being planned. The airport authorities have made it known that as of November this year 25 percent of all shipments will be subject to X-ray. This will move to 40 percent by August 2020 and 70 percent by the end of February 2021. The 100 percent X-ray mark is then planned as of March 2021. This, the airport say is in accordance with a so-called deadline set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Slack screening procedures?
Hong Kong Airport is well known as a professionally run airport offering fast service and state-of-the art handling facilities. However, it is said that only a minority amount of the more than 5 million tons handled each year is subject to security screening. This, mainly for shipments destined for the United States. Therefore there have been calls to tighten security for cargo and to introduce 100 percent mandatory X-ray procedures, as by the way is the case in mainland China.
The Hong Kong’s Shippers Council is not too happy about the decision. They are claiming that it will lead to severe disruptions in the form of delayed cargo and more importantly massive cost increases which the shippers and agents will eventually have to bear.
Who will carry the extra cost?
It is hard to refuse a ruling laid down by ICAO, but this does not seem to be the main issue worrying the Shippers Council. Tonnages, as in many other airports, have dropped at Chep Lap Kok and both airlines and handlers are being faced with declining revenues. So, cost is a worrying issue.
It’s not just the manpower cost which is the issue, but more so who is going to carry the high cost of acquiring and installing the many new and state-of-the-art X-ray machines which will be needed if the 100 percent mandatory screening is to be effected as of March 2021?
Will cutoff times double?
Another issue which has to be resolved is as to what cutoff times for cargo acceptance will apply once the mandatory screening comes into effect at HKG. Presently Hong Kong allows cutoff times of around four hours before flight departure. This could double once 100 percent screening is in effect. Much of HKG’s cargo is palletized off airport and delivered more or less direct to the apron. Off airport screening will also be mandatory and the question making the rounds at the moment is how this can be done as well as who’s paying the cost.
Finding suitable security staff and training them for fail-safe X-ray procedures is going to be a hard and expensive job. If these are not on seat by mid-2020, then the result could be long delays and shipments missing flights.
A hard nut for HKG to crack considering that the city is facing major internal turmoil.
John Mc Donagh