Safety issues at forefront of airfreight


Safety issues related to air cargo have been at the forefront this summer, ranging from lithium batteries to cargo pilot fatigue to avoiding flights over combat zones.

In our September issue, we take a look at the carriage of dangerous goods. The sub-category getting the most attention of late is lithium batteries. It’s clear that the issue of safe air transport of these increasingly ubiquitous products is here to stay and will only grow in importance. As Dave Brennan, IATA’s dangerous goods guru, says, if lithium batteries are properly designed and tested and shipped according to regulations, the industry does not see any problems.

But, as he says, the growth of e-commerce has led to increased shipping of cheap knock-offs that may not be safe. He also notes that there needs to be a better system for reporting of all incidents involving air transport of lithium batteries.

The U.S. Department of Transportation weighed in on the matter at the end of July, issuing new standards to strengthen safety conditions for the shipment of lithium cells and batteries. The new rules will require enhanced packaging and hazard communication requirements for lithium batteries transported by air.

There’s little doubt that how to safely ship and transport lithium batteries will continue to be something the industry must deal with for years to come.

Aug. 14 marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic crash of UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Ala., that claimed the life of two pilots. An official cause of the crash has not been determined, but the National Transportation Safety Board says it expects to release its final report in September.  

The Independent Pilots Association, the union that represents UPS pilots, chose the occasion to bring up the issue of pilot fatigue and to call for the end of the cargo pilot “carve-out” that exempts all-cargo airlines from new rest rules that became effective in January. UPS, through a spokesman, accused IPA of “playing politics with the memory of our coworkers” and said changes in the rest rules are not needed.

While the two sides are in disagreement over the need to change rest rules, it is certain all parties want to promote safe aviation. Perhaps this should include more discussion on the carve-out and the pilot fatigue issue. If the NTSB cites pilot fatigue as a factor in the Birmingham crash when it releases its report, there will be ample reason to renew this debate.

John W. McCurry is editor of Air Cargo World.




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