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The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

Dangerous goods on aircraft

Senior Technical Officer Dave Reynolds

NZALPA’s Senior Technical Officer Dave Reynolds reviews recent developments on the carriage of dangerous goods by air.

The regulation and carriage of dangerous goods by air continues to be a focus for NZALPA through our Technical Sub-Committee and our participation in the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations’ (IFALPA) dedicated Dangerous Goods Committee (https://www.ifalpa.org/aboutus/ifalpa-standing-committees/dangerous-goods-dg/).

We’ve also had long standing attendance at the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO)s Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP). This work, together with that on aircraft security, cargo hold fire protection and suppression, and our last level of defence, airport RFFS, ensures that we, our passengers and cargo arrive safely at destination. 

The DGP met recently at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters. There was a busy agenda of around 40 working papers and 15 information papers on topics including harmonising international regulations, member state oversight responsibilities and dangerous goods training material. 

Guidance material on lithium battery carriage 

The DGP presented an updated draft of the lithium battery guidance section in the ‘Supplement’ to ICAO’s ‘Technical Instructions for the Safe Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Air’ (Doc9284). This is used mostly as guidance for states to help in their oversight of dangerous goods operations. The goal was to align the material with anticipated airline requirements for a risk assessment on items carried in cargo compartments and add an explanation on the risks of portable electronic devices in passenger baggage. 

The proposal stresses the responsibility of airlines to consider the risks of lithium batteries in cargo and passenger baggage. For example, this would require that airlines should consider the chemistry of the lithium batteries likely to be transported on their aircraft. This is resisted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which argues there is no way an airline can know or understand what type of batteries are contained in passenger baggage or cargo (and what the risks of each type are). We strongly support the change, which reiterates our longstanding position that airlines are responsible for the safety of their operations and need to consider all of the risks associated with items they load on their aircraft. 

Passengers on all-cargo flights 

The type and quantity of dangerous goods allowed on a commercial aircraft is determined by whether it is a passenger or cargo flight, and the dangerous goods regulations define the terms passenger flight and cargo flight. Unfortunately, the dangerous goods regulations limit people on a cargo flight to little more than the required flight crew. So when there is cargo onboard that is not allowed on a passenger flight, current regulations can be interpreted as preventing commuting pilots, those on personal travel and off-line pilots from being onboard at the same time.

An IFALPA and IATA proposal to limit who can be excluded by the dangerous goods regulations, rather than banning everyone other than the flight crew, was discussed and later adopted without amendment. Its wording allows the carriage of additional people on all cargo flights in compliance with the provisions of the state of the operator and who have the permission of the operator. This was a notable success. 

Elimination of paper NOTOC (notification to captain) 

IFALPA does not support the elimination of the paper form advising the captain of dangerous goods being loaded. This is because there could be a reduction in safety levels as some smoke and fire checklists de-power electrical buses and might result in a loss of electronic information when it is needed most. In addition, a hard copy is the only reliable way to get this information to first responders in the event of an incident and it enables flight crew to hand over information directly to those arriving at the scene of an accident or incident.

IFALPA and IATA are separately reevaluating what the NOTOC contains and how it is conveyed. The DGP agreed to wait a year while this work is done, before reviewing the findings and then re-considering the issue. 

Data loggers and trackers 

Data loggers and trackers record conditions (such as temperature, humidity, or location) and/or transmit this information while a cargo is in transit. They are often powered by lithium batteries. These devices are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry and are becoming very common in air transport. Until now, they were regulated as ‘Section II lithium batteries packaged in equipment’. As they are in use during transport and they are not the cargo itself, there was a proposal to rewrite how they are handled in ICAO’s Technical Instructions.

Data loggers record data that is downloaded after a package is delivered. These typically, but not always, use small button cell batteries. Data trackers actively transmit cargo location, and they can use significantly larger batteries as the transmitters are often of the type used in mobile phones. The proposal identified that radio frequency interference from these devices is a potential safety issue and stated that relevant operations and airworthiness standards must be complied with, however the DGP only considered the risks associated with the batteries in transport.

We objected to some provisions in the original proposal that would have allowed an unlimited range of devices (not just data loggers and trackers) to be used; with batteries up to twice the size of a typical laptop. Additionally, there was no requirement to ensure the devices don’t get dangerously hot during use. 

The final draft limited the range of devices to data loggers and trackers, limited the number of devices to the minimum needed to record and track necessary parameters and stated that the devices must not produce dangerous amounts of heat. IFALPA did not object to the final proposal because it is an improvement on the status quo, however it noted the maximum allowed battery size was still about five times larger than those already in use. 

Urgently needed medical device batteries 

A proposal to allow urgently needed lithium batteries for medical devices in small numbers on passenger flights where there is no other practical means of transport (including all cargo air service) was accepted by the DGP. The original proposal included some extra safety provisions but imposed only a ‘per package’ limit with no limit on the number of packages on a given flight; allowed shipments for any medical equipment; and required only the approval of the airline but no state authority. Amendments reduced the size of allowed batteries; limited the number of batteries to four on a single flight; added the need for approval of the state of the operator; and added the requirement that the batteries must be urgently needed.

NZALPA did not object to the proposal because it included satisfactory safety precautions. We did note however, that it would be better to regulate to an appropriate level of safety and not by end use (i.e. medical applications). This should be done by identifying the means to transport items safely, writing them into the regulations, and ensuring everyone, regardless of end use, complies with the appropriate provisions. 

Review of helicopter operations requirements 

NZALPA participated in a review of requirements for helicopter operations in relation to authorising carriers to transport dangerous goods and the requirement for dangerous goods training. All carriers must now have dangerous goods awareness training as part of an effort to prevent undeclared dangerous goods in transport. Operators authorised to carry dangerous goods must have approved procedures and training in place to safely transport dangerous goods. 


Despite the progress made at this DGP session, the panel continues to regulate based on arbitrary criteria rather than a consistent, targeted level of safety. Many of its decisions are driven by end use, current practice, and other non-aviation safety related issues. Through IFALPA, NZALPA is taking every opportunity to point out non-performance-based proposals and argue that the DGP should be regulating to one level of safety for all commercial aircraft operations. To achieve this Technical Instructions will require major changes and this may take years to accomplish. However, ICAO’s creation of the Safe Carriage of Goods Specific Working Group may provide another avenue to create dangerous goods regulations based on the capabilities of aircraft and their cargo compartments.



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