Politics of Mailing Oneself

Politics of Mailing Oneself

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

The bizarre case of a cargo plane stowaway is making waves in Washington just as industry advisory panels to the Transportation Security Administration prepare to offer their recommendations for enhancing air cargo security.

Laughter was the initial reaction to the news that a 25-year-old New York man shipped himself to Texas in an air cargo crate. But reflection quickly turned serious as federal agencies investigated how the security lapse happened and Congress members stepped up calls for tightening security for air cargo.

"I laughed at first," Purolator USA President John Costanzo, a member of the Air Courier Conference of America board, said. "But I think it''s a huge incident that people need to investigate."

Industry insiders say the fact that Charles McKinley, an employee of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Metro Tech, was able to ship himself was a fluke. Yet they realize that to the public at large, the incident drew attention to the politically charged issue of air cargo security enhancement.

"If you have an understanding of the business, it''s an aberration," Airforwarders Association Executive Director David Wirsing said. "If you''re an outsider looking in, you''re looking at this as kind of a crisis. It is an aberration but not necessarily one that''s going to upset the entire system."

Wirsing has worked with the advisory panels, a subset of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, that were charged with developing recommendations to TSA about how to improve air cargo security. Those groups are scheduled to present their findings to TSA officials at an Oct. 1 meeting.

"We do expect to see some findings from them," TSA spokesman Brian Turmail said. "And we''ll have to see how

[the McKinley case] impacts their findings. If they haven''t already, it should make them think about any threat from a stowaway."

The TSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are the two lead agencies investigating the security breach, which began Sept. 5 when McKinley began his journey to his parents'' home in DeSoto, Texas, a Dallas suburb.

With the help of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Metro Tech tendered the shipment to Pilot Air Freight, a Lima, Pa.-based freight forwarder. Pilot officials were unavailable for comment.

Pilot picked up the shipment at Metro Tech''s facility and transferred it to Kitty Hawk Inc., a Dallas-based all-cargo carrier. Kitty Hawk unknowingly flew McKinley from Newark Liberty International Airport to Fort Wayne, Ind., Kitty Hawk''s hub. From Fort Wayne, the shipment flew to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on another Kitty Hawk plane.

A Kitty Hawk spokeswoman did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Much of the political attention on air cargo security has focused on the potential of dangerous items being transported in the bellies of passenger planes. UPS spokesman Norman Black said there was no chance of the McKinley crate having been sent on a passenger plane because it was from a shipper that was not part of a known-shipper database.

"In terms of the routing controls for this crate, they absolutely worked the way they''re supposed to work with Pilot Air Freight and with Kitty Hawk and with UPS Supply Chain Solutions," Black said. "This was not a crate that was ever considered for shipment on a passenger flight."

Still, Black said, the case illustrates a need to shore up security for air cargo in ways that make the industry more secure without impeding the flow of goods.

"Nothing is foolproof," he said. "There''s no such thing as 100 percent security. But we can sure raise the bar, which is something we''ve been doing for the last two years."

Black said UPS has not made any security changes at this point in light of the stowaway.

"There''s certainly been no change to our air freight broker procedures right now," he said. "But we intend to be a full participant in whatever debate comes next. These are serious issues. We''re all interested in the security of the nation''s borders."

McKinley remains in a Texas jail, where he was taken after being arrested on an outstanding warrant for unrelated charges. A Pilot employee discovered him in Texas after the crate was picked up at DFW airport and before it was delivered to its destination, McKinley''s parents'' house. He is expected to later be transferred to federal custody and is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate judge in Fort Worth on Sept. 29, FBI Special Agent John P. Skillestad said.

He said the air cargo cases the FBI typically deals with involve theft of cargo and other such criminal matters. This one, Skillestad said, is unique.

"Specifically mailing someone to another location, I''m not aware of that," he said. "But if this guy did it, I''m sure someone else has done it or at least considered doing it."

The FBI''s investigation of what happened will support the criminal charges McKinley is expected to face. The TSA is expected to issue a classified report on its findings when it is done with its investigation, Turmail said.

"We''re investigating every element, so it''s a little early for passing judgment," he said. "It clearly shows that more work needs to be done."