In recent months, there have been numerous images of passenger planes turned into freighters, displaying loads piled up to the cabin ceiling. Whether safety regulations were always adhered to during these transports is doubtful, at least in some cases. In order to avoid "preighter" risks, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has now presented a package of measures that applies with immediate effect to all airlines. CFG has summarized the most important modifications and amendments of previous regulations:
The organization’s 16-page document, released two weeks ago and hardly noticed by the media, foresees a number of security escalations when it comes to airlines (both EU and non-EU) being
authorized to operate “preighters” in or to the EU. The main changes include design specifications of the stowage compartments available in the passenger cabin, the quantity and type of handheld
fire extinguishers installed therein, and the approved fire-fighting emergency procedures.
Stiffer framework for mitigating risks
The intent of the new safety regulations, in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and its commercial impact on the industry and on airline operators, is to allow higher flexibility in the transportation of cargo in the passenger cabins. This additional flexibility could be granted if the exposure to the risk of a catastrophic cargo fire is mitigated by operational, technical, and regulatory limitations, based on the experience that cabin fires originate either from aircraft systems or from personal belongings stowed in the overhead bins by personnel accompanying shipments. “These (items) must be subject to intensive screening and control prior to departure,” EASA demands. Furthermore, it is assumed that passengers and crew members can detect cabin fires in a timely manner, the agency adds.
Retrofits are required
To ensure an increased level of safety, the installation of additional aircraft systems is required for “preighter” compartments, such as smoke detection systems, built-in fire suppression devices, means to shut off ventilation, and smoke barriers, among others.
In its new safety framework, EASA strictly prohibits the loading of dangerous goods in “preighter” cabins. Mail, batteries, live animals, cargo of a piercing, dense, rigid, or penetrating nature, or shipments with sharp edges such as rods, pipes, or beams, that could become a projectile hazard during a turbulence, are also excluded.
The loading of pallets on seat tracks is usually not compatible with the dimensions of the pallets and requires specific locks/latches and pick-up points for tie-down, EASA stipulates.
Those are the most important EASA “preighter” amendments in a nutshell.
“Preighters” are allowed to operate until the end of 2022
In previous considerations, the agency had assumed that, until 31DEC21, up to 2,500 pax aircraft would temporarily fly as “preighters” for the main purpose of transporting masses of medical supplies and PPE from producer to consumer markets. Each affected aircraft was allowed to operate until that date or once 2,000 flight hours have been reached. However, until now, the number of converted aircraft has been much lower, so EASA has prolonged the flight permit to 31JUL22. The operating limitation applicable to the number of flight hours remains unchanged. EASA declares in the ruling that it will continue to monitor the implementation of the design changes very closely.
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