Shippers using Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) could experience cost increases and delays, after the worldʼs busiest air cargo hub begins the phased introduction of X-ray screening of air freight shipments.

Mandatory X-ray screening due to be phased in from November at HKIA, will now take effect from January 2020, to give the air cargo industry more time to cope with the enhanced security screening requirements, set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Our understanding is that 25% of all shipments will be subject to screening from January 2020, increasing to 40% by August 2020, 70% by the end of February 2021 and 100% as of March 2021.

Hong Kong Airport’s reputation and renown as a slick and professionally run airport, offering fast service and state-of-the art handling facilities is long-established.

However, currently only a fraction of the 5 million (plus) tons handled each year is subject to security screening, mainly for shipments to the United States.

The 100% X-ray initiative was mandated by Hong Kongʼs Civil Aviation Department (CAD) after the ICAO announced a tougher security regime in September 2016.

The phased roll-out is ambitious and there are fears that shortages of screening capacity and trained staff could cause lengthy cargo delays, creating bottlenecks at busy times and peak periods, which will impact efficiency and Hong Kong’s competitiveness.


Presently Hong Kong allows cutoff times of around four hours before flight departure, which could double once 100% screening is in effect.

HKIA’s short cut-off is a major USP as China already has 100% cargo scanning and a 24-hour pre-flight cutoff for cargo acceptance.

The Hong Kong’s Shippers Council has expressed concern about severe disruptions in the form of delayed cargo and more importantly massive cost increases which they fear shippers and agents will eventually have to bear.

We anticipate an increase in the number of regulated off-airport air cargo screening facilities to relieve the pressure on HKIA resource and are seeking suitable resource to support our air cargo operations.

Seven off-airport facilities have already been approved by Hong Kongʼs Civil Aviation Department (CAD), with two more in the pipeline and it is reported that more than 110 applications have been received by CAD from potential air cargo screening facilities.

We understand that trials on the overall operation of air cargo handling from cargo screening at the off-airport facilities to acceptance at the airport cargo terminals started in late July 2019 with satisfactory results.

Under the ICAO plan, consignors will either have to be approved by CAD as a validated known consignor or be an “unknown consignor” and have their cargo subject to 100% security screening prior to being loaded aboard aircraft.

CAD has limited resources to validate known consignors. We can advise on the best option for achieving validation of your vendors, or effective screening, if validation is not possible.

We are actively supporting the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics efforts with CAD to find the most effective solutions, including feasibility studies of multiple screening options including off-airport x-ray screening, common cargo screening facilities, dog detection; CT scanning for palletised cargo; and the establishment of a new KC Validation Scheme.