RADAR SCREEN

RADAR SCREEN

Shippers and carriers appear to be complying with Customs' 24-hour advance manifest filing requirement in the U.S. ocean trades. In a recent three-month period, Customs says it processed 2.4 million bills of lading, and issued only 260 "no load" orders, according to Keith Perteet, an inspector in Customs' marine section. During the same period, Customs issued only five penalties, Perteet told a seminar sponsored by the Foreign Trade Association of Southern California. In today's just-in-time shipping environment, missing the intended voyage because documentation is incomplete is more damaging than a $5,000 penalty, he added. Most of the problems occur because of sloppy reporting practices rather than a willful intent to circumvent the advance manifest filing requirement, Perteet said.

The Port of Portland, Ore., is moving closer to deepening its 40-foot channel to 43 feet. The Army Corps of Engineers says it expects to approve a critical dredging permit for the $148.4 million Columbia River channel deepening during the next few weeks. While the pending decision from the corps represents a major regulatory milestone, Congress, which authorized the project in 1999, has yet to appropriate funding for it. The project would dredge sections of the Columbia River from the mouth near Astoria to Portland, to accommodate deeper-draft vessels. "We can't get into major construction without funds," said Portland District Corps spokesman Matt Raybe. "It's likely then that we would proceed with smaller ecosystem components." Ports in Oregon and Washington, the project's sponsors, are awaiting the release of $2 million to $5 million in federal funding that is now under consideration in Congress. Reserve funding of $2.5 million is immediately available and would likely go toward ecosystem-restoration projects, which could include replacing habitat for endangered Columbian white-tailed deer and endangered salmon species. Environmental work could begin next spring, with navigational work expected to begin sometime later after funding is secured.

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency will sponsor a conference on airport development early next April in Beijing. The American Association of Airport Executives is working with the agency to plan the conference. Topics will include aviation infrastructure, modernization of air traffic control systems, cargo development and the state of the airline industry in China, according to Spencer Dickerson, the association's senior executive vice president. "It's a big growth area for China. Aviation interests lick their chops when they look at China," he said. Companies expected to participate in the conference include FedEx and United Parcel Service.

Under a reorganization at Qantas Airways, Denis Adams, the former chief executive of its low-cost international subsidiary, Australian Airlines, has taken direct responsibility for managing the airline's cargo unit, Qantas Freight. Adams is also in charge of the Australian carrier's holiday, defense services and consulting business. Insiders say it's too early to say what impact the move will have on the carrier's cargo business.

An Oct. 9 truck crash on the I-710 freeway that killed six people has spurred both the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles to form committees to study ways to relieve congestion on the main artery serving the neighboring ports. A study by the state of California found that I-710 carries 15 percent of the international containerized freight in the U.S., but it also has the highest accident rate involving trucks of any California freeway. Local planning agencies have considered measures such as operating extended gates at marine terminals in order to push more truck trips into the night hours and weekends, when freeway traffic is the lightest, and adding truck-only lanes. Community groups have opposed any expansion proposal that would require demolition of homes located near the freeway. With harbor truck traffic projected to triple from 30,000 trips per day to 90,000 in 2020, the ports are under pressure to help reduce the impact of growing truck traffic.

Strong U.S. economic growth could make for a very busy post-Thanksgiving rush for United Parcel Service and FedEx but fierce price competition between the two giant express companies could depress profits. The express companies define the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas as their peak season. UPS reported record earnings last week for the third quarter, but operating profit for its domestic package business only rose 2 percent over the corresponding period last year, when the threat of a Teamsters strike depressed earnings. Meanwhile, DHL, bolstered by its acquisition of Airborne, is aggressively trying to chip away at the dominant market share of its U.S. rivals.

A trade group representing private U.S. marine terminal operators says the Coast Guard seems to have removed some of what it had considered objectionable provisions in the agency's recently finalized maritime-security rules. The provisions that deal with "shifting law enforcement obligations to the private sector appear to have been deleted," said Chuck Carroll, executive director and attorney for the National Association of Waterfront Employers. Carroll noted that new Coast Guard rules require terminal owners to check containers, cargo and vessels when there is "evidence of tampering." The prior rules required terminal owners to check for "dangerous substances and devices," regardless of whether any sign of tampering was evident.

The Coast Guard published its final port and maritime security plans last week, but any port that isn't already well under way with its plan will be doing some 11th-hour scrambling. The plans are due Dec. 29, but most locations began the planning process after the proposed security rules were published in July. Some port officials believe the Coast Guard should have established uniform standards for all ports, but officials turned down that idea. However, each plan has to have the USCG seal of approval, which gives the agency the chance to impose some order and uniformity on the process.