Flash Info

Pre-loading advance cargo information: latest status update

13 October 2017
By Craig Clark, Branch Chief, Advance Data Programs and Cargo Initiatives, Office of Cargo and Conveyance Security, US Customs and Border Protection, and Asha Menon, Senior Technical Officer, WCO

In October 2010, a bomb was found by police in the United Kingdom (UK) aboard a UPS plane after detailed information was passed through intelligence channels. Tests revealed that if the cargo plane’s journey had gone to schedule, the device – in a package addressed to a synagogue in Chicago – would have gone off in midair over the eastern seaboard of the United States (US). The device found in the UK was one of two discovered. The other was at Dubai International Airport on a FEDEX plane. The device found in Dubai had travelled on two passenger planes without being detected. Both bombs were capable of bringing down an aircraft. Intelligence agencies believed that they were sent by the Yemen-based al-Qaida affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), sparking fears that a new vulnerability in aviation security had been discovered by terrorists.

The WCO swiftly responded to these air cargo security concerns by issuing a communiqué on air cargo security in December of that year, in which it stressed the need for the further strengthening of cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and other relevant international organizations. As a result, the WCO established a Technical Experts Group on Air Cargo Security (TEGACS) in February 2011, involving interested Customs administrations, civil aviation authorities, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector. Similarly, the ICAO also established a Working Group on Air Cargo Security (WGACS).

Technical Experts Group on Air Cargo Security (TEGACS)

The fundamental principle behind the establishment of the TEGACS is to enhance air cargo security by promoting cooperation between Customs and civil aviation authorities as well as other stakeholders, while clearly delineating their respective roles. At the international level, this includes promoting synergies between the instruments, tools and programmes of the WCO, the ICAO and the Universal Postal Union (UPU), and, in particular, to standardize data required by each authority, to align security programmes, to ensure risk mitigation through the implementation of risk management techniques, to ensure intelligence and threat information-sharing, and better use of technology.

Two issues of particular importance are currently under discussion at TEGACS meetings: the use of pre-loading advance cargo information for risk analysis; and, to the greatest extent possible, the harmonization of certification programmes, such as the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) within the domain of Customs, and the Regulated Agent/Known Consignor (RA/KC) within the domain of civil aviation authorities. It is on the first issue that this article will focus.

From pre-arrival to pre-loading

After the October 2010 incident, there was a strong intention to shift the timeline given to air mode transport for the submission of their declaration from pre-arrival to pre-loading. However, initial discussions with the trade showed that it would be very challenging to submit the whole data set to Customs at that early stage. Therefore, several countries decided to test, by way of pilot programmes, the submission of a reduced data set and its value in providing a first layer of security analysis to address immediate air cargo security risks such as the “bomb in the box” scenario. The US pilot is called ACAS (Air Cargo Advance Screening), the European Union’s (EU) pilot PRECISE (Pre-loading Consignment Information for Secure Entry) and Canada’s pilot PACT (Pre-load Air Cargo Targeting).

Acknowledging the significant progress by the different pilots, the TEGACS underlined the need for the development of global standards for such advanced data systems, including the need for harmonization/alignment and cooperation among all stakeholders to avoid duplication. The phrase “Pre-loading Advance Cargo Information (PLACI)” was adopted in referring to these programmes.

The WCO adopted standards for submission of PLACI by various entities in the air cargo supply chain, including postal operators, and added it to its SAFE Framework of Standards to secure and facilitate global trade in 2015. The document states that advance cargo information submission should be “as soon as the information becomes available, but no later than prior to loading onto the aircraft,” and lists the 7+1 data elements, namely the Shipper/consignor name, Shipper/consignor address, Consignee name, Consignee address, Number of packages, Gross weight, Brief Cargo description, plus the Air waybill identifier (i.e. the House Air Waybill (HAWB) and/or the Master Air Waybill).

With respect to the above-mentioned Air waybill identifier, the identification of the data filer must be provided together with the HAWB and/or the MAWB number according to the air cargo business model. However, postal shipments will not be accompanied by a HAWB or a MAWB as they have their own unique identifier that can be used in the same way as a HAWB or MAWB to identify a shipment.

Using the standards

Recognizing that both the ICAO and the WCO cannot work on these issues in isolation, a WCO-ICAO Joint Working Group on Advance Cargo Information (JWGACI) was set up in 2014. It comprises eight members and one additional member to co-chair from each side (18 members in total) as well as representatives of six relevant stakeholders. The purpose of the JWGACI is to discuss and recommend best practices – based on the pilots that are being conducted – for sharing and using PLACI in carrying out security risk analysis by Customs and civil aviation authorities to mutually support each other and strengthen air cargo security.

The JWGACI is co-chaired by the EU (representing Customs) and Singapore (representing aviation authorities). Members from Customs include Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the US, while aviation sector members come from Canada, France, the Netherlands, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the US. Other represented stakeholders include the Global Express Association (GEA), IATA, the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and the UPU.

A two-phased approach is followed by the JWGACI. Phase I, which was completed in 2015, involved the study of ongoing pilots and assessing the cost and benefits, the challenges, and impacts on aviation security and its operations. Phase II, which is ongoing, focuses on the technical details related to the identification of data elements and determining the processes and methods for the collection, sharing and use of advance electronic cargo information. An Interim Report was submitted to both the WCO and the ICAO in 2016 after the JWGACI members agreed that some aspects of the deliverables of Phase II required more work.


At the 11th TEGACS meeting that took place in February 2017, an extended panel discussion on PLACI was held, whereby it was agreed that even though it has been seven years since the Yemen incident, the risk is still present. In that vein, the importance of the different agencies in continuing to work together to mitigate potential risks in air cargo transport was acknowledged. In addition, the success of the pilots should not be measured quantitatively (i.e. only considering them successful if an improvised explosive device, or IED, is found in a shipment). There are many other benefits of a PLACI programme that are very difficult to measure (e.g. visibility in the supply chain, communication links with industry, prevention, incident management, etc.). PLACI was noted to be a valuable additional layer in the detection of suspect shipments. The JWGACI has met five times so far. The next round of meetings will focus on completing Phase II and the issuing of a final and complete report.

In the meantime, the EU introduced legislation in May 2016 requiring the submission of PLACI, with implementation expected by 2020. As part of its smooth implementation preparations, a two-day test of the transmission of pre-loading data (7+1 data) and response messages by Customs was conducted in cooperation with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Data from the KLM system was sent via a software which KLM had developed specifically for this test to a Customs test platform managed by Dutch Customs. From there, the data went through an automated risk engine, which had been prepopulated with artificial risk profiles. When issues related to data quality are raised or positive hits are obtained, flagged shipments appeared on a screen and the person in charge had to decide which of the following two actions to take: request for information (RFI), or request for screening (RFS). The request message was then sent to KLM’s system for its reaction. Cases of simulated freight forwarder filing were also tested.

The US has drafted language to make the requirements of its ACAS pilot a permanent regulatory regime. Meanwhile, the US has extended the pilot’s operations for an additional 12 months to 26 July 2018. Furthermore, Canada continues to refine the constructs of its PACT pilot initiative. A Japanese initiative also begun in August 2016 with the involvement of a few airlines. It is based on the use of the 7+1 data elements and, in principle, on the submission of this data as early as possible before cargo is loaded onto an aircraft.


The WCO would like to acknowledge that the whole initiative so far would not have been possible if not for the close cooperation and willingness of all parties involved – Customs administrations, the aviation sector and relevant stakeholders. The WCO hopes that the JWGACI Phase II Report will be completed soon so that it can be submitted for endorsement to delegates attending the WCO Policy Commission and Council Sessions in June 2018. The report is expected to go through a similar process at the ICAO.


More information


WCO-ICAO partnership marked by ongoing collaboration

Besides working on the development of PLACI, the WCO and the ICAO have initiated a number of projects based on a Joint Action Plan first issued in 2012 and later revised in 2017.


A brochure entitled “Moving Air Cargo Globally” was published in 2013 with the objective of introducing the regulatory frameworks for the international air cargo and mail supply chains, as well as the role and responsibilities of the WCO, the ICAO, the UPU, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), national authorities and aviation industry stakeholders. The second edition includes a new section on the economic implications of air cargo movements.


A joint training module for Customs and aviation security officials that aims to enhance their understanding of the international air cargo supply chain, each other’s roles, and the roles of other important actors, has already been used to train officials in countries located in the Asia/Pacific, Middle East and North of Africa, and Europe regions.

Alignment of security programmes

Work on the harmonization of certification programmes, such as the AEO within the domain of Customs and the RA/KC within the domain of civil aviation authorities, includes the development of an AEO/RA guidance document and a joint AEO/RA security programme template, which will provide a structure allowing the alignment of the two security regimes. A pilot is expected to be conducted in Mexico and the development of the guidance will follow.


Three Joint Conferences entitled “Enhancing Air Cargo Security and Facilitation” were held with the objective of stimulating discussions on how Customs, aviation security authorities and relevant stakeholders can work together to overcome global security concerns, including the identification of practical and sustainable solutions to these challenges. The 4th Conference will take place in 2018.