Caution! Dangerous goods on the move

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Transporting dangerous goods by air in an increasingly volatile safety and security environment is a challenge as the air cargo industry sets tougher norms. Reji John...

In the increasingly volatile safety and security environment that the air cargo industry operates there are constant revisions of the regulations to ensure foolproof security to people and assets. This becomes even more crucial when it comes to the transportation of hazardous goods. Transporting dangerous goods hinges on the fundamental concerns of the safety of the people, the aircraft and the environment. Tens of millions of dangerous-goods shipments are transported around the world each year. While air transport is a small slice of the dangerous-goods game – less than one per cent, based on tonnage – more and more shipments are being moved across the country. Major airlines have long been in the business of transporting dangerous goods, but recently their safety practices are under the scrutiny of global regulatory watchdogs. Federal legislation, which incorporates technical instructions from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United National Specialised Agency, regulates the transport of these goods. At ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) meeting held in April this year the need for a meeting dedicated to lithium metal batteries was raised as there was agreement that additional measures were needed to mitigate risks related to the carriage of lithium metal batteries as cargo on a passenger aircraft. The DGP decided to propose that the transport of lithium metal batteries in cargo be restricted to Cargo Aircraft Only. The prohibition on the carriage of lithium metal batteries on passenger aircraft only applies to lithium metal batteries when shipped by themselves. The prohibition does not apply to lithium metal batteries packed with equipment or contained in equipment. Earlier in February a multidisciplinary meeting was held where the participants reviewed demonstrations on how reactions differed depending on the battery type, manufacturer and chemistry. The meeting concluded that fires in flight involving certain types and quantities of lithium metal batteries have the potential to result in an uncontrolled fire leading to a catastrophic failure of the airframe. An IATA statement issued in May this year said that the proposal by the DGP has still to be reviewed by the Air Navigation Council and approved by the ICAO Council. Unless they decide otherwise, these changes will become effective 1 January 2015. Trevor Howard, manager, Cargo Safety and Dangerous Goods Standards at Air Canada Cargo admitted to the fact that there has not been a serious reassessment of the way dangerous goods are transport by Air Canada Cargo. “With safety of our employees, crew, passengers and aircraft being our first priority at Air Canada, we have always produced industry leading training and procedures for our staff which we continue to update to reflect the current reality of today’s ever changing dangerous goods regulations. By being a leader in the transport of dangerous goods, we continue to be at the forefront of any potential or actual changes in the regulations. Additionally, every operating branch within Air Canada have specific training relating to the transport of lithium batteries by air. Internal and external audits are conducted at a minimum bi-annually to ensure compliance of both safety and security procedures of all cargo products,” he said. Commenting on the constantly changing regulatory environment of how dangerous goods are transported by air IAG Cargo reiterated its position of continuously reviewing their policies and procedures regarding the carriage of dangerous goods. “We have recently introduced ‘bow-tie’ risk modelling to support these reviews, as safety and security are major priorities for us within the business. This approach allows us to map all plausible security scenarios and plan responses,” said Andrew Yates, Head of Compliance at IAG Cargo. While regulations are clearly spelled and they are communicated to every stakeholder in the industry after every time they are reviewed; it is the shipper's responsibility to ensure that articles or substances are not prohibited for transport by air and that article or substances are properly identified, classified, packaged, marked, labeled and documented in accordance with IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations, as well as all government regulations of the country of origin, transit and destination. Explaining the way IAG Cargo responds to the amendments being proposed by ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel which are likely to be enforced next year IAG Cargo said through British Airways and Iberia, IAG Cargo is represented on the IATA Dangerous Goods Panel. “We make direct recommendations to IATA on upcoming policy changes. Furthermore, through British Airways and Iberia, IAG Cargo already has Operator Variations in place prohibiting the carriage of bulk lithium metal batteries,” Yates said. Citing security issues IAG Cargo declined to discuss specific details of their ongoing initiatives to fully comply with IATA’s new regulations. “The safety of our employees and aircraft is of paramount importance, so we continually update our policies and procedures as required to ensure compliance with IATA requirements,” Yates added. As for Air Canada Cargo it has produced industry leading training and procedures for their staff which they continue to update to reflect the current reality of today’s ever changing dangerous goods regulations. “All training material for all categories of dangerous goods training is updated on a yearly basis to align with the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations. Our training and procedures are reviewed and approved by the competent authority of the state of the operator (Transport Canada) on a yearly basis,” explained Howard. 

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