What matters in dangerous goods transport by air is to follow the rules and follow them very strictly. However, the rules keep changing in the increasingly volatile safety and security environment. So keep pace with changes. Reji John...
Transporting dangerous goods by air in an increasingly volatile safety and security environment has always been a challenge and this becomes even more challenging as the air cargo industry regulators set new and tougher norms. Dangerous goods can endanger the safety of an aircraft, its passengers and crew, people on the ground or cause damage to property or the environment if not prepared and transported in accordance with the regulations.
The definition of standards for classification, packaging, marking, labeling, documentation, handling and training, as well as their promotion and use, contributes to achieve a very high degree of safety in the transportation of dangerous goods by air. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) works closely with governments and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and IATA member airlines to develop regulations that advance safety and facilitate fast and efficient transport of dangerous goods by air.
Every stake holder in the air freight industry with interest in dangerous good transportation has to undergo a reassessment of their standards and procedures at frequent intervals keeping in mind the changes that IATA makes reflecting the current reality. IATA, through its Dangerous Goods Board (DGB), has developed and approved the changes to the 57th edition of the dangerous goods regulations (DGR).
Interestingly dangerous goods are more common than you think. There is very little danger in cute nail polishes that make us beautiful or those colourful paints that adorn our homes. But they become extremely dangerous and hazardous when transported by air in huge quantities as cargo without following the rules very strictly. It is here that the IATA has revised the rules and regulations governing their transport by air keeping pace with the increasingly volatile aviation safety and security.
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 DGR, as well as all government regulations of the country of origin, transit and destination.
For airlines it is essential to understand the needs of their customers and their clients to ensure that they provide safe and secure transportation of their products. As mentioned, regulation clearly identifies the responsibilities of each party within the supply chain and this is designed to encourage collaborative working. Working together with a mature reporting culture gives any airline the opportunity to protect and grow the legitimate movement of dangerous goods in a safe environment.
It is a fact that IATA can only create regulations but can’t enforce them. Enforcement of the regulations is the role and responsibility of the national aviation authority (NAA) in each country. “IATA and our airline members expect the NAAs to have in place policies and procedures to ensure that all parts of the dangerous goods supply chain, particularly shippers of dangerous goods, are subject to oversight and surveillance. This process is to ensure that to the extent possible the NAA are able to ensure compliance with the dangerous goods regulations,” said David Brennan, assistant director, cargo safety & standards, IATA.
IATA is working with the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) in a bid to convince manufacturing countries that greater government oversight is needed in the production of lithium batteries. In the context of revised regulation in IATA’s DGR manual Glyn Hughes, IATA’s head of cargo, said the campaign would target the counterfeit battery makers that currently operate with impunity and are hard to spot.
It is not only counterfeit batteries that are posing a risk to the supply chain. In a bid to sidestep regulations that limit the size of lithium batteries or stipulate certain packaging, the mis-declaration of shipments is being regularly exposed.
China, for instance, needs to have greater oversight over the makers of fake batteries, with licences issued and those operating illegally being prosecuted. Hughes provided an example of an air waybill for a six-tonne, 300-box consignment of mobile phone accessories that actually stipulated it contained “no battery no magnet” and was about to fly off on Philippine Airlines. Fortunately while still on the ground, one of the boxes in the pallet began to smoke and it was discovered to contain thousands of lithium batteries not packed properly or labeled.
Hughes gave an even more blatant example of a shipper sidestepping regulations, this time from an online retailer selling lithium ion batteries for model aircraft. Under the product description, the seller advised customers that a fake label stating that the battery was under 100W would be attached.
“Many of the shippers know the regulations. It is not naive ignorance and is not something we could fix by educating them on the rules. They know that if they had to declare the battery properly they would not be able to ship it by air through the regular postal system.”
Recently, Angela Stubblefield, a hazardous materials safety official with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made a statement to the effect suggesting that there is now a body of evidence that batteries can cause explosions and fires capable of destroying airplanes. “We believe the risk is immediate and urgent,” said Stubblefield at a recent public event. The risk of unstoppable fires is prompting the US officials to back a proposed international ban on rechargeable lithium battery shipments as cargo on passenger airlines. Stubblefield statement also reflects the urgency of a warning sent to all airlines by Boeing in July that the shipment of batteries created “an unacceptable risk” to crew and passengers. A week later Boeing’s competitor Airbus issued a similar warning recommending that operators of all of its airplanes conduct “a full risk assessment” of what was rather vaguely termed “high quantities” of the batteries in cargo.
The Boeing warning was issued as a Multi Operator Message. These are normally issued to inform airlines of a newly detected safety problem experienced by an airline during operations and are related to a specific airplane type—but in this case the warning covered all Boeing airplanes. The warnings are also issued following a crash if investigators have homed in on a possible cause. Specifically, the Boeing warning recommended that “high density packages of lithium-ion batteries and cells not be transported as cargo on passenger airplanes until such time as safer methods of transport are established and followed.”