Air cargo examination

​The examination of air cargo is the responsibility of approved Regulated Air Cargo Agents (RACAs). These are freight handling of forwarding businesses that have both that capacity and capability to examine export air cargo in accordance with the Air Cargo Examination (ACE) program or the Enhanced Air Cargo Examination (EACE) program.

Both the ACE and the EACE programs are put into effect through the issuance of notices—which are delegated legislative instruments, and are legally binding—to RACAs that have the appropriate equipment and procedures in place to meet the examination requirements. These notices establish the minimum examination methods, techniques and requirements for the examination of air cargo.

The ACE and the EACE program differ significantly; the notice that an industry participant can apply for depends on a number of factors, including the location of the examination site (on- or off-airport), and the type of examination equipment being operated at the site.

Air Cargo Examination (ACE) Program

The ACE program is applicable to 100 percent of international export air cargo and has been in effect since 2008. Under the ACE program, CTOs are required to examine export air cargo through the use of technology, either explosive trace detection (ETD) or X-ray as a primary method, with the inclusion of physical examination permissible for a secondary examination method—along with ETD and X-ray. Importantly, primary and secondary examination methods cannot be the same.

Since 1 November 2016 a security declaration (SD) may only be issued after the prescriptions of the ACE Notice have been applied to an item of cargo as it is presented to the CTO. Until 1 July 2017, the ACE program will be the default examination requirement for all international air cargo, excluding the United States. Alternatively, SDs may also be issued by Known Consignors.

Any air cargo destined for the US must be examined and security cleared in accordance with either the EACE Program, or originate from a Known Consignor.

Enhanced Air Cargo Examination (EACE) Program

To meet the United States (US) Government requirements, Australian RACAs will be required to examine 100 per cent of US-bound air cargo at a piece-level before it is loaded onto an aircraft, since July 1 2017. Each individual box, carton or other item in a shipment will be screened by technology or physically inspected. There is a range of approved examination methods, and a RACA that is designated as a participant in the EACE Program must have at least two approved methods, a primary and a secondary.

Unless the cargo has originated from an approved Known Consignor, it must be examined by a business possessing the relevant technology and issued with the EACE Notice. An authorised business will be obliged to meet specific security standards and will be regulated by the Department of Home Affairs.

Under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 (the Act) and associated regulations, businesses that examine, handle or make arrangements for the transport of air cargo must be regulated as a RACA.

RACAs are responsible for:

  • implementing a risk-based security program for their air cargo operations
  • giving effect to obligations imposed on them by the Act, including their RACA Security Program and specific legislative instruments such as the EACE notice
  • examination of, and protecting the security of all cargo from its arrival into their facilities until it leaves their possession
  • providing their employees with the appropriate level of security training.

For US-bound air cargo, a regulated business must also examine cargo at piece-level to standards set out in the EACE notice issued by the Department.

EACE notices are available for businesses with approved examination equipment and the capability to deploy it effectively. Any business operating in Australia that has X-ray or explosive trace detection examination capability may have the requisite security standards in place to apply for an EACE notice. For more information on EACE, contact

Frequently asked questions

What is piece-level examination?

Piece-level examination refers to examination of cargo at a low-level of consolidation before it is packed into unit load devices (ULDs) or onto pallets. In Australia, there are four approved examination methods:

  • X-ray
  • Electronic Metal Detection (EMD)
  • explosive trace detection (ETD)
  • physical examination.

What is considered a piece of cargo?

A piece of cargo is defined as the largest item that can be effectively examined based on the examination method used.

The table below sets out the piece definitions for different approved examination methods:

​Examination method​Definition of a piece of cargo
  • ​each separate box, carton or other item; or
  • a consolidated load of items;

a single piece of cargo may be examined if it exceeds the maximum object size, provided it fits within the manufacturer's instructions and is subjected to a secondary examination method in addition to the primary.

For consolidated consignments, they must:

  • not exceed the maximum object size* and
  • be effectively examined using X-ray examination.
  • ​each separate box, carton or other item or
  • a consolidated load of items.

a single piece of cargo may be examined if it exceeds the maximum object size, provided it fits within the manufacturer's instructions.

For consolidated consignments, they must:

  • not exceed the maximum object size* and
  • be effectively examined using EMD examination.
  • ​each separate box, carton or other item or
  • the smallest possible item on a consolidated pallet, where these items are held together only with shrink wrap or banding.
​Physical examination
  • ​the smallest box, carton or other item within a ULD, pallet or consignment into which the ULD, pallet or consignment can be deconsolidated or unpacked.
  • physical examination is a detailed inspection of the contents of an item of cargo and must be conducted on the inside of a piece of cargo.

*The maximum object size is the largest size object permitted by the X-ray manufacturer that does not exceed the Department's specifications. To access the Department's specifications please contact

How does a business apply to participate in the EACE Program?

A business that wants to examine cargo at piece-level must apply to the Department to be formally validated and be issued with the EACE notice. Approval to examine air cargo at a piece-level will be granted once the business has made an application and undergone a validation by the Department to ensure it can meet the requirements in the EACE notice.

I am interested in examining cargo—how do I find out more?

If you are interested in examining cargo, you should contact the Department at

Is there an alternative to examining US-bound cargo at piece-level?

The Department has implemented a scheme that authorises businesses to secure US-bound air cargo at source. The Known consignor scheme established a new category of industry participant directly regulated by the Department.

Known Consignors are required to secure their US-bound air cargo at source through approved security measures. Air cargo originating from known consignors does not require further examination provided it remains secure until it is loaded onto an aircraft.

For more information, see Known consignor scheme.