Rogue Shippers To Be Rooted Out

Rogue shippers which continue to send misdeclared, counterfeit or wrongly packaged lithium batteries by air will be rooted out and reported to national authorities, IATA and its member airlines have pledged.

As the April 1 deadline approaches for a ban on carrying shipments of lithium ion batteries on passenger aircraft, IATA has urged governments to play a greater role in overseeing battery manufacture and penalising offenders.

“We are taking two actions,” said Glyn Hughes, IATA Cargo chief. “We are increasing our ability to track incidents – at the moment we are only hearing about them anecdotally, so there may be many more we don’t know about. And we will discover serial offenders who wilfully send batteries without complying with regulations.”

This week a consignment of lithium batteries, declared as batteries within appliances which can be shipped, was found after arriving at an airport in bellyhold. While the law has not yet come into effect, the airline in question has its own embargo on the freight.

“When the ban comes in these situations won’t stop,” said Mr Hughes. “It’s imperative that states play a role.”

Lise-Marie Turpin, head of Air Canada Cargo and IATA Cargo Committee chairman, said the cargo executive summit this week in Berlin had agreed action was needed.

“We need to encourage states to criminalise any misdeeds related to lithium batteries. It will take time, so in the meantime we will share incidence reporting and push the battery industry to find better packaging. ICAO has been quite clear it will lift the ban if the packaging is improved.”

The ocean freight industry has come up with a solution to help find misdeclared dangerous goods via technology, which potentially could be adapted for the needs of the air freight industry.

Hapag-Lloyd’s intelligent software uses a database of more than 6,000 keywords to identify conspicuous terms and word combinations in declarations. If the so-called ‘watchdog’ barks, the dangerous goods team check the consignment. Last year the system detected 2,620 cases of incorrectly declared dangerous goods.

“[By misdeclaring] these customers endanger our crews, the ship, the cargo of our honest customers and, above all, the environment,” said Ken Rohlmann, head of the dangerous goods department at Hapag-Lloyd.

Lithium ion batteries (UN 3480, Packing Instruction 965 only) are forbidden, on an interim basis, as cargo on passenger aircraft. The prohibition does not apply to lithium ion batteries packed with equipment or lithium ion batteries contained in equipment.

And There’s More ….

The day that IATA announced its new ULD safety program also featured a panel discussion on the very hot topic of the place of ULDs as the front line of defense against lithium-ion battery fires.

It is easy to think of Unit Load Devices as just expensive boxes. After all, the 900,000 ULDs currently in service represent about US$1 billion in replacement cost, and every year our industry spends about $330 million on ULD repair. And the costs extend beyond the ULDs themselves – the number-one cause of aircraft damage from ground loading equipment is from mishandled ULDs, and at least two aircraft crashes are known to have been caused by improperly handled ULDs.

During the session “ULDs: In the Frontline of Flight Safety,” delegates to IATA’s World Cargo Symposium learned that, in addition to their role as shipping containers, ULD’s play a critical role in aircraft safety.

If a fire occurs in a ULD in the hold of an aircraft in flight, the pilot needs to descend to 20,000-feet, depressurize and land. This takes time, and the explosive nature of lithium battery fires can leave time in short supply. In one negative example, shown on a video, a Lithium-ion battery explosion disengaged the base of a ULD. But there are ways to contain a fire in a ULD, whether it’s caused by batteries or other flammable items, and Joe Ashton, business manager with AmSafe Bridport, said one such way was through the use of his company’s Fire Containment Covers (FCCs). The covers have been available for four years, but Ashton said that a combination of apathy, denial and misinformation is why they’re not widely used.

“Lithium cells are prevalent in all aspects of life,” Ashton said. “They are being shipped by air in bulk, in devices and as undeclared dangerous goods.” However, he said an FCC can contain a fire to a single pallet position, shield the aircraft from damage, prevent the spread of the fire and protect the rest of the cargo onboard. According to Ashton, the FCC can contain a fire within a ULD for up to six hours – plenty of time to get on the ground.

Likewise, Bob McClelland, the dangerous goods manager for UPS, explained how the fire resistant containers UPS developed work. Made from fiber-reinforced plastic, they can withstand intense fires for at least four hours. He showed an equally fascinating video of one of the UPS ULDs, in which viewers could hear the cells exploding. But the specially designed container didn’t blow up (it mitigates gas build-up), and the fire remained contained within the box for four hours. And, while not directly ULD-related, he added that full-face oxygen masks are now available for pilots on all UPS aircraft.

McClelland also underscored something IATA has been saying for some time: “Really, the problem is low-quality, non-standard batteries.” He also pointed out that lithium-ion batteries are not the only problem to be considered in ULD design, saying that undeclared cargo and mail of many kinds – even if there is no fire danger – can damage ULDs in other ways.

And finally, Dave Brennan, dangerous cargo specialist with IATA, agreed that fire resistant containers and fire containment covers are able to reduce risk. But he also added that shippers not declaring dangerous goods is a real problem, and that governments need to reinforce the need for Fire containment covers and fire-resistant containers.