FAA Unable to Ensure Compliance on Hazardous Materials - Study

A report released this week by the U.S. Transportation Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) has concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lacks the training and guidance necessary to enforce regulations which allow carriers to disclose hazardous material violations voluntarily, without incurring civil penalties, Reuters reported. The report said the hazardous materials included lithium batteries.

The OIG report follows earlier comments by aircraft maker Boeing, who stated that high-density packages of lithium batteries, like those used in mobile phones and laptops, should not be carried on passenger planes because they pose serious fire risks.

Lack of adequate framework
In 65% of the cases involving hazardous materials, OIG investigations found that the FAA did not obtain sufficient evidence to ensure that carriers fixed reported problems. The agency also has not sought to identify safety risks or trends involving hazardous materials and lacks the clarity to determine how carriers should meet the requirements.

"FAA does not have an adequate framework to carry out the (regulations) effectively," the 20-page report concluded. However, in a two-page memo included with the report, the FAA said it has recently implemented strong internal controls to oversee compliance.

From 1991 to 2014, the OIG report said that lithium batteries were involved in over 70 aircraft incidents that involved extreme heat, smoke, fire or explosion in air cargo and passenger baggage. In 2010, a UPS Boeing 747-400 freighter caught fire and crashed in Dubai. An accident report later concluded that the cause may have been improperly declared lithium batteries.

Strong actions needed
At last week's World Cargo Symposium in Shanghai, James Woodrow, chairman of IATA's Cargo Committee and director of Cargo at Cathay Pacific Airways, said strong action was needed to secure the safe transport of lithium batteries by air.

He urged government authorities to step up and take responsibility for regulating producers and exporters of lithium batteries, and ensure compliance by those who are responsible for initiating the transportation.

"Flagrant abuses of dangerous goods shipping regulations must be criminalised," Woodrow concluded.

Nol van Fenema

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