Airlines and logistics groups are rushing to catch sniffer dogs to comply with new regulations for screening cargo on cargo flights as part of stricter rules to crack down on terrorism.
Demand for K9 or police dogs, capable of sniffing explosives, has increased with concerns over shipping delays as operators struggle to find animals and x-ray screening equipment in time for a deadline July.
It is the latest threat to supply chains, already strained by the coronavirus crisis and surge in online shopping that have driven up demand for international shipping.
Air freight has also been in demand due to the surge in demand for cargo at a time when many passenger planes, which typically carry half the cargo volumes, remain grounded.
The rules, which mean that all cargo on international cargo flights must be screened, were introduced by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The delay poses particular problems in the United States, where groups fell short of ICAO rules and there was uncertainty over responsibility for controlling the cargo.
It expands existing requirements to check cargo in the bellies of passenger planes in response to a 2010 printer cartridge bomb plot that targeted two cargo planes bound for the United States from Yemen.
“This will double the size of dog companies,” said Eric Hare, managing director of Global K9 Protection Group, which plans to expand its dog handling teams for air cargo to around 225 from 125 by the end. July.
Rival Cargo Screening K9 Alliance said it received double the number of dog quote requests from airlines, ground handlers and logistics groups in the first five months of the year compared to 2020.
Strong demand is now likely to outstrip supply, industry figures show.
“The question is, will there be enough dogs and trained teams ready for the deadline?” said Brandon Fried, chief executive of the Airforwarders Association, a trade body.
Although dog suppliers insist that there are a large number of suitable animals out there, the sudden surge in interest means getting them ready on time could prove difficult.
It takes about six to eight weeks and $ 100,000 to train and deploy a dog with its handler. “There are enough dogs to do the job, but not enough time to do it,” Hare said.
Express carriers such as UPS said they were prepared well ahead of the July deadline, but smaller air cargo carriers and ground handling agents are more likely to struggle than some of their larger competitors.
A lack of dogs or x-ray machines by the deadline could cause significant delays, as goods stacked on pallets would have to be taken apart for human examination.
Exporters and importers face price increases to cover the costs of testing.
Glyn Hughes, chief executive of the International Air Cargo Association, said sniffer dogs were unprecedented in their ability to detect dangerous cargoes. “Canine detection systems are so precise,” he says.
While the deadline is too tight to deliver automatic filtering systems on time, the stricter security regulations are expected to trigger a boom in demand for security scanner manufacturers as operators seek long-term solutions.
Richard Thompson, aviation industry director at Smiths Detection, whose x-ray machines are used in airport security, estimates double-digit growth in his air cargo business of £ 50million due to regulation in a sector of increasing demand.