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Dangerous Goods are defined as those things which may cause danger to aircraft and / or its occupants if they are carried, and must therefore either be prohibited altogether or carried only when subject to specific restrictions on their packaging, quantity carried, stowage location, proximity to other items, or category of flight.
International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 18 to the Chicago Convention, The Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, deals with all aspects of the subject. In general, it sets down the broad general principles which determine whether items are acceptable for carriage by air. One of the applicable Standards requires that Dangerous Goods are carried only in accordance with ICAO Doc 9284, ‘Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air’ which is generally referred to as the "Technical Instructions". The Technical Instructions amplify the basic provisions of Annex 18 and contain all the detailed instructions necessary for the safe international transport of dangerous goods by air.
Contracting States are required under Annex 18 to have inspection and enforcement procedures in place which will ensure that all Dangerous Goods are only carried in full compliance with the stated requirements. By requiring that appropriate National legislation must be in force, this system ensures governmental control over the carriage of dangerous goods by air and provides for a world-wide harmonisation of safety standards.
The Technical Instructions
The Technical Instructions contain a comprehensive set of requirements which is based upon a classification of dangerous goods and includes a list of all those defined. This list identifies those goods which are:
- forbidden under any circumstances;
- forbidden on both passenger and cargo aircraft in normal circumstances but could be carried in exceptional circumstances subject to exemption by the States concerned;
- forbidden on passenger aircraft but permitted on cargo aircraft in normal circumstances; and
- permitted on both passenger and cargo aircraft in normal circumstances.
The Technical Instructions require that all dangerous goods be packaged appropriately and usually restrict the quantity per package according to the degree of hazard and the type of aircraft (i.e. passenger or cargo) on which the items are being loaded. In the majority of cases, there is no limit on the number of packages per aircraft. The Instructions also specify the packing methods to be used and the packaging permitted, together with the specifications for that packaging including the stringent testing regime which this packaging must successfully complete before it can be used. In addition, there are precise requirements for the marking and labeling of Dangerous Goods packages and in respect of the documentation which must be prepared whenever such packages are consigned by air.
There is a requirement that every package of dangerous goods should be inspected externally by the Aircraft Operator or their contracted agent before carriage to ensure it is in a fit state and appears to comply with all the relevant requirements. Packages are subject to loading restrictions including the segregation of those containing incompatible dangerous goods and securing so as to prevent movement in flight.
The Aircraft Commander must be informed before departure what dangerous goods are on board and where they are located since, in the event of an emergency on board (which may not necessarily involve dangerous goods), the aircraft commander is required, situation permitting, to inform the appropriate ATC Unit of dangerous goods on the aircraft to assist the emergency services in their response. The aircraft commander may exercise discretion in respect of the communication of dangerous goods information, since he/she must judge the risks involved in diverting the attention of a member of the flight crew from the primary task of keeping control of the aircraft during emergency situations.
Since Aircraft Operators are also aware of what dangerous goods have been loaded on their aircraft, in the event of an aircraft accident the Technical Instructions require that they must, as soon as possible, inform the State in which the accident occurred of what was on board and where it was located. It is accepted that it is possible, that in some circumstances, this information may not be instantly available. Operators are also required to report to the relevant authority all accidents and incidents involving dangerous goods, and States in turn are required to have procedures in place to investigate such occurrences.
The Technical Instructions contain training requirements which apply to everyone involved in consigning, handling and carrying dangerous goods, cargo and passenger baggage. These include the need for refresher training at two-year intervals and the keeping of training records. There are specific responsibilities for shippers and operators. Shippers must ensure staff preparing consignments of dangerous goods receive training or that another organization with trained staff is used. Operators must ensure their own staff and those of their handling agents are trained. Training programmes for operators are subject to approval by the State of the operator.
Accidents & Serious Incidents involving Dangerous Goods which Resulted in a Fire
- A333, Manila Philippines, 2013 (On 7 October 2013 a fire was discovered in the rear hold of an Airbus A330 shortly after it had arrived at its parking stand after an international passenger flight. The fire was eventually extinguished but only after substantial fire damage had been caused to the hold. The subsequent Investigation found that the actions of the flight crew, ground crew and airport fire service following the discovery of the fire had all been unsatisfactory. It also established that the source of the fire had been inadequately packed dangerous goods in passengers checked baggage on the just-completed flight.)
- B738, Dubai UAE, 2013 (On 6 December 2013, a Boeing 737-800 passenger aircraft was flown from Amman to Dubai out of revenue service with a quantity of 'live' boxed chemical oxygen generators on board as cargo without the awareness of the aircraft commander. The subsequent Investigation found that this was possible because of a wholesale failure of the aircraft operator to effectively oversee operational risk implicit in sub contracting heavy maintenance. As a result of the investigation, a previously unreported flight by the same operator in revenue service which had also carried live oxygen generators was disclosed.)
- B744, en-route, East China Sea, 2011 (On 28 July 2011, 50 minutes after take off from Incheon, the crew of an Asiana Boeing 747-400F declared an emergency advising a main deck fire and an intention to divert to Jeju. The effects of the rapidly escalating fire eventually made it impossible to retain control and the aircraft crashed into the sea. The Investigation concluded that the origin of the fire was two adjacent pallets towards the rear of the main deck which contained Dangerous Goods shipments including Lithium ion batteries and flammable substances and that the aircraft had broken apart in mid-air following the loss of control.)
- B744, vicinity Dubai UAE, 2010 (On 3 September 2010, a UPS Boeing 747-400 freighter flight crew became aware of a main deck cargo fire 22 minutes after take off from Dubai. An emergency was declared and an air turn back commenced but a rapid build up of smoke on the flight deck made it increasingly difficult to see on the flight deck and to control the aircraft. An unsuccessful attempt to land at Dubai was followed by complete loss of flight control authority due to fire damage and terrain impact followed. The fire was attributed to auto-ignition of undeclared Dangerous Goods originally loaded in Hong Kong.)
- DC10, Newburgh NY USA, 1996 (On 5 September 1996, a DC10 operated by Fedex, was destroyed by fire shortly after landing at Newburgh, USA, following a fire in the cargo compartment.)
- DC87, Philadelphia USA, 2006 (On 7 February 2006, towards the end of a flight to Philadelphia, the crew of a DC8-71F detected possible signs of a fire and eventually a system warning confirming that a fire may be developing in part of the main deck cargo. During the subsequent landing, thick black smoke entered the flight deck and an emergency evacuation was performed immediately after the aircraft stopped. Despite the efforts of the emergency services, the aircraft was subsequently destroyed by fire which the Investigation traced to containers which it was suspected but not proved had been loaded with goods which included lithium batteries.)
- DC93, en-route, north west of Miami USA, 1996 (On 11 May 1996, the crew of a ValuJet DC9-30 were unable to keep control of their aircraft after fire broke out. The origin of the fire was found to have been live chemical oxygen generators loaded contrary to regulations. The Investigation concluded that, whilst the root cause was poor practices at SabreTech (the maintenance contractor which handed over oxygen generators in an unsafe condition), the context for this was oversight failure at successive levels - Valujet over SabreTech and the FAA over Valujet. Failure of the FAA to require fire suppression in Class 'D' cargo holds was also cited.)
- L101, vicinity Riyadh Saudi Arabia, 1980 (On 19 August 1980, a Lockheed L1011 operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines took off from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - seven minutes later an aural warning indicated a smoke in the aft cargo compartment. Despite the successful landing all 301 persons on board perished due toxic fumes inhalation and uncontrolled fire.)
Other Serious Incidents involving Dangerous Goods
- B742, Halifax Canada, 2004, On 14 October 2004, a B742 crashed on take off from Halifax International Airport, Canada, and was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire. The crew had calculated incorrect V speeds and thrust setting using an EFB.
- B748, Prestwick UK, 2017, On 30 March 2017, a significant amount of fuel was found to be escaping from a Boeing 747-8F as soon as it arrived on stand after landing at Prestwick and the fire service attended to contain the spill and manage the associated risk of fire and explosion. The Investigation found that the fuel had come from a Bell 412 helicopter that was part of the main deck cargo and that this had been certified as drained of fuel when it was not. The shipper’s procedures, in particular in respect of their agents in the matter, were found to be deficient.
- ICAO Annex 18 - The Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air
- ICAO Doc 9284 - Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air
- IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (re-issued annually)
- Lithium batteries - Risk mitigation guidance for operators by IATA, 2nd Edition, 2016.
- Safety Risk Assessment - Carriage of Lithium Batteries on aircraft by IATA, 1st Edition, 2016
- Three Accidents Involving Lithium Batteries by IATA, 1st Edition, 2016
- Airbus FOBN Cabin Operations - Dangerous Goods Awareness
- FAA Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO): Risks in Transporting Lithium Batteries in Cargo by Aircraft SAFO 10017 Date: 10/8/10
- EASA SIB 201030 R1 Transport of Lithium Batteries by Air
- An analysis of fumes and smoke events in Australian aviation ATSB (Australia), 2014
- Lithium Battery Guidance Document, IATA, March 2016 - provisions for safe transport of lithium batteries
- Lithium batteries: safe to fly?, C. Bezard et al., Airbus Safety First No. 21, pp. 22-41, January 2016
- ISAGO Standards Manual 5th Edition, March 2016
- IATA Provisions for Dangerous Goods Carried by Passengers or Crew, January 2017
- FAA Hazmat rules, November 2015
- Study of Reported Occurrences in Conjunction with Cabin Air Quality in Transport Aircraft BFU (Germany), 2014
- FAA SAFO 18003: Procedures for Addressing Odors, Smoke and/or Fumes in Flight, 2018